Rutgers Board May Have Dealt Fatal Blow to Proposed Merger of 2 Campuses

May 04, 2012

The Rutgers University Board of Trustees approved a resolution on Thursday stating that its campus in Camden, N.J., should remain part of the university system.

The resolution in all likelihood halts a proposal to merge the Rutgers-Camden campus with Rowan University, 20 miles away in Glassboro, N.J. The resolution says the board is open to alternatives to a merger, which could include an agreement for some form of academic consortium with Rowan, a compromise previously proposed by the faculty members and administrators at Rutgers-Camden. State lawmakers and officials affiliated with both institutions had been holding closed-door discussions to craft an alternative to the merger.

Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers-Camden, said he was happy that the trustees had shown their support for his small campus in southern New Jersey. "There is nothing certain," Mr. Pritchett said, "but I feel very good about the resolution that was passed."

The interim president of Rowan University, Ali A. Houshmand, who supports the proposed merger, was not available for comment, said a Rowan spokesman, Jose D. Cardona.

The proposed merger was recommended in January by a five-member advisory committee appointed by Gov. Chris Christie. The panel included the proposal as part of a larger report on how to restructure medical education in the state.

Governor Christie, a Republican, endorsed the plan and called for the merger to be approved by July 1 through an executive order that could be blocked only if a majority of the Legislature voted to reject it. But the consolidation of the campuses would also require approval by Rutgers's Board of Trustees, one of two governing bodies that oversee the university.

Until the trustees approved Thursday's resolution, it had been unclear what stance either governing body would take to giving up the Camden campus in return for gaining control of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, one of the components of the scandal-tainted University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The Rutgers Board of Governors, an 11-member group, has six members that are appointed by the governor.

The idea of a merger sparked an immediate outcry from Rutgers-Camden administrators, alumni, faculty members, and students. Faculty members even formed a nonprofit organization in order to file a lawsuit if the merger went forward.

Opponents charged that the plan was meant to be a political payoff to a power broker in southern New Jersey, George E. Norcross, an insurance magnate and chairman of the Cooper Health System, a Camden institution that will be a partner with Rowan's new medical college when it opens this summer. A merger with Rutgers-Camden would bolster the research and revenue potential for the new medical college and alleviate the debt burden of Rowan, proponents of the merger said.

Opponents feared that the loss of the Rutgers name would lead to the loss of prominent faculty members and potential students.

The merger had embroiled state lawmakers, and even became a touch point for the feud between Governor Christie and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who had asked the federal Education Department to scrutinize the proposal.

Mr. Pritchett and some Camden faculty members expressed confidence that a subsequent deal would allow Rutgers-Camden to keep its name and affiliation and possibly gain more autonomy and money from the main campus in New Brunswick.