Save Rutgers: An Honest Analysis of the Rut-Row Bill
No need for introductions on this post, Save Jerseyans.
If you have been following the wild ride that has been the Rut-Row merger, you know what is going on.
The first official draft of the Senate bill to “restructure” higher education in New Jersey dropped yesterday morning. Below is my analysis of the most important and interesting parts of the bill.
Warning, you might want to go and grab a snack before proceeding . . .
A Focus on Medical Education
The first thing that sticks out about this bill is that the focus is not on what the commotion has been about since the plan broke in January. While all of South Jersey has been protesting the merger of Rutgers Camden and Rowan, the drafters of this bill seem to feel that the takeover of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is the crucial factor. How do we know this? Well, the short name for the bill is the “New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Restructuring Act.” Not one word about Rutgers, Rowan, Cooper, Norcross, or anything else. (If anyone wants to have some fun, leave a comment below on what you think the short name should be).
This part of the bill also tackles many of the concerns regarding tenure, seniority, and employment status. Under the bill, no employees transferred from UMDNJ or University Hospital to Rutgers will be considered “new.” Apparently everyone will retain their current positions and/or seniority status. So how long do you think it will be before there is some sort of employment dispute over this that ends up in court? I’d give it three months.
The New Rutgers Camden Board
Rutgers Camden gets no mention in this bill until you make it down to page 6 (of 87). Section 13 of the bill seeks to establish a brand new Board of Trustees for Rutgers Camden by July 1, 2013. This is the new board that Senator Norcross spoke of during our interview. But there is some information here that he failed to mention.
- There will only be 8 members on the board, and one of them will be nonvoting. That member is the Rutgers Camden Chancellor.
- 2 additional members will be selected from the current Rutgers Board of Governors.
- 1 additional member will be selected from the current Rutgers Board of Trustees.
- 4 additional members will be appointed by Governor Christie and approved by the Senate.
So that is interesting, the Governor is tasked with appointing the voting majority of the board. That fact will surely make anti-merger folks cringe. However, that fact shouldn’t. The current boards that control Rutgers also have either a majority or one shy of a majority (depending on the board) appointed by the Governor. So this is nothing new.
The problem is actually with where the remaining members come from. You see, the Governor also selects 6 members of the Board of Governors and 5 members of the Board of Trustees. This essentially means that this new Camden Board could have its entire voting group selected by the Governor! It is hardly a check or a balance on anything. The assets and control of Rutgers are supposed to be held in a public trust and not subject to the winds of political change in New Jersey. Well there goes that.
A Bad Sign: The First Mention of Rowan
Rowan, the other, far more silent player in this game, is also conspicuously absent from the initial pages of the bill. But its first mention should be a real cause for concern. Since the announcement of the compromise plan, a common line I have heard is that “a merger by any other name is still a merger.” Well prepare to feel validating you cynics out there!
The first mention of Rowan in the entire bill is not as a standalone University as it is today. In Section 14 on page 7, the bill states that the newly formed Board of Trustees for Rutgers Camden will be given a number of powers (listed below) but that those powers will be subject to the approval of the Joint Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors. Wait, the what?
This joint board is not mentioned on any of the prior pages, but throwing the two names together seems like just what George Norcross wanted, a merger, just by another name.
So if Rowan allows it, the new Rutgers Camden board will have a bunch of powers, including:
- Administrative policymaking
- Financial studies and budget requests from the state
- Setting tuition and fees
- Spending public money sent from Trenton
- Borrow money
- Buy capital
- Plan, design, and build new structures on campus
- Set salaries up and down the employment scale
- Enter into government contracts with the state or the United States
Riveting stuff. The board will also set its own academic standards and will be receiving money directly from the state now, rather than from New Brunswick.
The 99 Year Lease: Merger By Any Other Name Part II
So there was talk in Kevin Riorden’s piece today that this plan may be unconstitutional for at least one reason. The bill forces Rutgers University to give up the Rutgers Camden campus in exchange for $1 per year for the next 99 years. Let that sink in for a second. The Rutgers Camden Campus, which is easily valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, will essentially be sold for the next century for $99.
According to the bill, Rutgers will retain ownership of the land. However, they are not allowed to have any control over it, cannot use it to leverage debt, and cannot have any input into further construction or development of the land. Finally, at the end of the 99 year leave, Rutgers Camden will then purchase the campus from Rutgers University for fair market value . . . whatever that will be in the year 2113.
Under the 1956 Rutgers Law, Rutgers Camden became a part of Rutgers University. The state cannot simply take it away from Rutgers as it is now under control of the two Boards. However, by requiring them to lease the land but retaining control, the Act may not be technically violated. It is a genius smoke screen. Unfortunately for the pro-merger crowd, it does not pass the smell test and people will see through it.
A term usually reserved for municipalities trying to save money can now be applied to Rutgers Camden! According to this bill, Rutgers Camden will enter into contracts with Rutgers University to use their library system, IT frameworks, and administrative services. This essentially is calm the fears of those who complained that a removal from Rutgers University would destroy the back end operations that have been in place for years. The catch? Now Rutgers Camden will have to pay to use the services! If that does not sound like Rutgers Camden is not a part of Rutgers at all, then I don’t know what does.
Joint Rowan-Rutgers Camden Board: A Merger By Its Own Name
The new Joint Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors is where the merger fully lives on. This is the new apparatus that will control everything that goes on in South Jersey higher education.
It will consist of 7 members. 2 from Rowan, 2 from Rutgers Camden, and 3 from the Governor. Of course keep in mind that the 2 from Rutgers Camden have a strong chance of also being members who were appointed by the Governor originally. So really, the state has its hands all over this board from every side.
This board is going to have wide powers, which include:
- Approving or denying any decision made by Rutgers Camden’s new board
- Determining administrative policy and curriculum development
- Capital expansion
- Oversight of the joint medical programs
Essentially, this Joint Board will have the ability to do whatever it wants with Rowan Glassboro and Rutgers Camden. Control is ownership. While there is a Rutgers Camden Board being created, this Joint Board has control. That is exactly what the anti-merger movement has been trying to avoid, a school other than Rutgers having significant control over the Camden campus. While the name may have been retained, the power all resides elsewhere. Additionally, there is nothing in this bill that prohibits the Joint Board from changing the name of the Rutgers Camden campus at any time. Now that Rutgers Camden would be separate and apart from Rutgers University, there would be nothing to stop the change. No dual boards of control, no Higher Education Restructuring Act, no Rutgers Law, literally no legal recourse.
The New Rowan
Rowan University would also be controlled by the Joint Board. But this bill has greater perks in it for Rowan, and by extension the Cooper Hospital Medical School. Rowan will now be established as a “public research institution,” a term previously given only to Rutgers by state law. This new status will theoretically give Rowan and Cooper access to more funding for research. No medical school in the country is attached to a university that is not considered a research institution, and now Rowan will apparently not be the first.
Unfortunately, just being called “research institution” does not make it so. The bill seems to be silent on the differences in faculty structure between Rutgers Camden and Rowan, which will apparently all now be controlled by the Joint Board.
At Rutgers Camden, professors are required to do research and teach only two classes, whereas at Rowan, professors do no research and teach four classes. This is what categorizes Rowan as a “teaching college” and Rutgers Camden as a “research institution.” This bill is supposedly not going to impede on any contracts (and if it does then the whole thing may in fact be unconstitutional after all). But if that is the case, then the research designation for Rowan will simply be in name only. Without necessary changes being made to the way Rowan itself operates, it is simply an empty designation being used to obtain funds for Cooper Medical School. Worst of all, it seems that the new “joint” operation between the two schools means that funding will be obtained on the backs of Rutgers Camden’s research, rather than any new growth at Rowan.
The rest of the bill includes numerous amendments to bills having to do with Rowan, Rutgers, and UMDNJ. Most are irrelevant to this discussion and are not worth going over.
This bill is not what those involved in the secret discussions earlier this year have chalked it up to be. Under the guise of giving Rutgers Camden a new, autonomous life of its own, South Jersey Democrats have quite literally saved the sign on the buildings but thrown the rest to Rowan and powerful political interests. Make no mistake, this plan is still a merger between Rutgers and Rowan, the only difference is that for now, the Rutgers name will remain, even if it essentially means nothing.
My theory is the same as it has been for quite some time. The initial plan proposed back in January was a bombshell. Those involved knew that it would cause an uproar among the masses, and even though that unified front against the merger was far bigger than they imaged, they were essentially right. This plan is now being introduced to let us believe that we won. We get to keep Rutgers Camden in name, just like we have been fighting for all along. While holding up that Rutgers sign with the left hand, party bosses in South Jersey are literally signing the school itself away to yet to be created boards and the state with the right hand. Some may feel like we won, but we haven’t. Progress was made for sure, all of the efforts over the last few months were not in for nothing, but don’t call this victory.
This bill is still in draft form, so the fight is far from over. I do not expect this to come up for a vote in both houses of the legislature before July 1, and if we keep on them it definitely will not. It will have to clear committees to make it to the floor, and that means a chance to be heard publicly again.
If a merger by any other name is still just a merger, then I say that we call this one a takeover.