Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill today that calls for university mergers in the state. The measure isn’t without controversy with some questioning how the changes might hurt certain educational institutions. But New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities CEO Michael Klein told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that the merger offers an opportunity to the schools. He also discussed a $750 million bond initiative that will appear as a referendum for voters, saying the money will be an investment in the future of the state’s places of higher learning and help fund critical building projects.
Klein said the university merger bill is complicated, totaling more than 100 pages. His focus was on the effects to Rowan University. “It’s a wonderfully exciting opportunity for the leaders and the board of Rowan,” he said. “Their medical school just opened this month and I think this is an opportunity to be formally recognized as a research institution, which is a direction they’ve been going anyway, with or without this official statute.”
Some are concerned of implications of the merger, especially in Newark. Klein said he didn’t focus on that part of the law, but has heard concern about University Hospital in Newark and the Rutgers-Newark campus. He said there has been concern for years in Newark, documented by a report the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force released in January 2010. “That document was pretty unsparing in its description of the need for a greater focus on the needs of Rutgers-Newark,” Klein said. “But there are better experts than myself that could comment on that.”
Christie also recently signed a $750 million bond initiative into law that would fund buildings and renovations at the state’s colleges and universities. The measure will appear on the ballot in November for voters to decide.
“We’re going to be working with a lot of our partners in the construction trades and the rest of the higher ed community to try to tell the public that this is a terrific opportunity for investment in critical, 21st century academic buildings,” Klein said, adding the bond will pay for critical space at colleges and universities. “We’re talking about environmental science laboratories, health science facilities, nursing facilities, facilities that will train our students and allow our faculty to do their research on critical issues affecting the future of New Jersey.”
While some may worry about the high price tag, Klein said voters should look at the bigger picture. “This is an opportunity to invest in those facilities and in those people, in those students, in those faculty members to really make a great contribution to the New Jersey workforce and to the kinds of technological advances that New Jersey’s been known for since Bell Labs and the great research that’s been done at J&J and Merck for years,” he said.
The funding is necessary, Klein said, and isn’t being offered for free to the colleges and universities. “The state has been an indifferent partner at best in its investment,” he said. “And this is a great opportunity to give state dollars to these facilities and there will be a match. The details within the bill require the institutions to pay 25 percent of the buildings themselves so it’s not a free ride for the institutions.”