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Christie Signs Bill That Will Restructure State University System

8-22-12

By signing the legislation merging New Jersey’s higher education institutions, Gov. Christie effectively ended years of raucous debate and government inaction on the issue, and started the process that will greatly expand Rutgers and Rowan universities. The governor framed it as a key step in helping the state’s economy.

“It makes what I believe will be a stronger Rutgers going forward,” said Christie. “A stronger Rutgers competing for not only the best students here in New Jersey but also around the country, a stronger Rutgers competing for federal grant dollars with other institutions across the country, a stronger Rutgers in terms of the economic engine, that it will be for everyone across the state as we struggle to get more and more people back to work.”

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The final legislation accomplishes this:

  • Most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ), which includes the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, will be handed over to Rutgers.
  • UMDNJ’s osteopathic medical school will be taken over by Rowan.
  • And Rutgers will keep its name across its three campuses.

Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks said the reforms signed into law today will help the state attract and retain more exceptional talent. “The creation of regional centers of excellence will aid New Jersey’s comeback by making it easier for New Jersey’s higher education institutions to create partnerships with business and industry to help drive innovation and economic growth in our state,” said Hendricks.

The push to merge the state university system has been tried before, under the two previous governors. Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney provided the key support to push it through the Democratic legislature.

Sweeney said the fear of change made the fight for the merger predictable. “But standing still means you die,” argued Sweeney. “Education has to change just like everything else. We wanted to create something special here. Three centers, as the governor says, of excellence in the north, central and south because we are one state.”

There remains debate about how much the merger will cost and how many jobs might be lost. For example, nurses at UMDNJ’s nursing school are concerned about the overlap in programs at Rutgers nursing college.

And some students, like sophomore Marios Atahsiaou, say they had little voice in this merger and fear rising tuition to pay for it. “If we’re students and these matters directly effect us, how much we pay for education we’re receiving, how much we pay this university to give us the education we feel we deserve, don’t we have a say in matters that are directly not only our lives, our futures and our degrees, but also our wallets?”

The governor is urging that voters support a $750 million bond referendum in November, which would pay for programs at the state’s colleges and universities.

The merger is on the fast track. It’s scheduled to be completed by July of next year. In the meantime, the governor is having what many might consider a good month. He merged the state university system and next week he goes to Tampa, where he is the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.

Andrew Schmertz files this report from New Brunswick.