The idea of university restructuring in New Jersey has caused controversy with some associated with Rutgers University opposing the original plan that would have folded Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University. The legislature approved a merger plan Thursday after the Rutgers Board of Governors voted 9-1 in favor of it. One of the sponsors of the plan, Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5), told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the decision is “huge” for Camden, South Jersey and the entire state.
“The fact of the matter is New Jersey ranks 47th out of 50 states in its support of higher ed,” Norcross said. “That is something that New Jersey should not be proud of so when we take a look at the structure of higher ed in New Jersey, that was the backdrop where this began and now we have restructured higher ed in New Jersey so that we will go from 47th to the top tier.”
He said the reorganization of higher education has failed twice under two different administrations, so he believes this is a big step.
Gov. Chris Christie’s original college merger plan announcement included a provision that would have Rowan University take over Rutgers-Camden. “I immediately said that was unacceptable and that we had to bring in stakeholders and find a better way of doing that,” Norcross said. “Originally they wanted to do this under an executive order as you can tell now it came through legislation, which takes all of the support groups and stakeholders and has their input.”
Norcross said the Rutgers Board of Governors and members of Rowan University supported the revised plan, which was obvious in the legislative vote.
The Rutgers Board of Governors will be getting the details to analyze the plan, but Norcross is optimistic the board will approve. “I believe this is a bill that will be signed by the governor shortly and that the board of governors will endorse once they get the actual paperwork in front of them,” Norcross said. “But they voted again yesterday 9-1 in favor of the plan that we passed through both houses of the legislature yesterday.”
Although Norcross said the vote is a step in the right direction, he said there is still a lot of work to be done for the reorganization. “That’s why the implementation date for this piece of legislation is a year away,” he said. “There is much work that has to be done and planning by Rowan University that will now become a research university and now there’s a collaborative board to focus on health sciences.”
Norcross said he believes South Jersey’s economy will benefit from the college merger, as will the state’s largest public university. “This is a monumental day for southern New Jersey and for the state of New Jersey because Rutgers University goes from a mid 20s up to the top 10 of research universities in America,” he said.
Another controversial aspect of the reorganization plan has been from those in Newark concerned about the loss of the current University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). But Norcross said he believes the city will benefit from the change.
“The fact of the matter is they’re getting a new and improved organization without all of the skeletons that UMDNJ had. They get a university hospital which continues and will have the support of the state of New Jersey so health care will be delivered to Newark,” Norcross said. “This is a big win for Essex County.”