Higher Ed Committee Chair Doubts Rutgers-Rowan Merger Will Meet July 1 Deadline

Gov. Chris Christie’s Rutgers-Rowan merger plan that would fold Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University has caused controversy, with the Rutgers Board of Trustees rejecting the proposal Thursday. State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), chair of the Higher Education Committee, sat down with NJ Today’s Desiree Taylor to discuss the merger. She said she doesn’t have enough information yet to make a final decision on the plan.

Cunningham said even though the Rutgers board rejected the merger, she believes there will be continuing negotiations. “This is something the governor really wants. This is something that for the most part the southern part of the state wants,” she said. “So it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here, but I don’t think it’s dead.”

The cost of the proposal is a major question, according to Cunningham. “Anything that is this large and will influence and impact this much of what goes on in the state in terms of education is going to have a high price tag,” she said. “The key is going to be how much that price tag is and can we pay it?”

Cunningham said if there is a compromise, it might become a partnership between Rutgers and Rowan and Rutgers and other educational institutions instead of a merger.

She believes a July 1 deadline for implementation is not feasible because the colleges have accumulated debt and have differing licenses and certifications that need to be sorted through. “I think that perhaps July 1 was a date that was given to get the ball rolling and to make sure people are moving in that direction,” Cunningham said. “I cannot imagine that anyone really believes that July 1 will be the magic moment for this to occur.”

She said she believes the merger proposal will go through the legislature, whose members she believes are willing to listen to all aspects of the plan. “I don’t think anybody’s going to say absolutely not,” she said. “Not without hearing all of the facts and hearing what the dollars will be and how it will really impact on the communities that are involved, both on the southern part of the state and in Newark.”

Cunningham said she’s not sure if she supports the plan yet. “It would be very difficult to sit here and say yes I would vote in favor of it because we’re living in very difficult financial times and it would depend on what the impact will be financially,” she said.

Cunningham also said she hasn’t yet decided about a run to become the mayor of Jersey City. “I am thinking about it,” she said. “I have not made a decision.”