By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
There may be several reasons why Chris Christie is supporting Rutgers President Robert Barchi, but surely one is that he needs Barchi to complete a complicated university merger plan by July 1.
“This is the largest merger in higher education history. Rutgers is about a $2.2 billion institution. UMDNJ is a $1.7 billion institution. This is practically a merger of equals from a balance sheet perspective. It’s a huge undertaking. And I have absolute confidence in Bob Barchi. And I believe it’s one of the reasons the board of governors hired him in the first place,” Christie said.
Barchi told reporters yesterday, moving the state’s medical school into Rutgers — and its osteopathic school into Rowan University — remain his focus.
“We are working very, very hard on the merger and I believe we have a clear timeline and line of sight to a closing in July. We have excellent people working on it. It’s a very, very large and complicated project and we will continue to do our best to make that happen. I don’t think that the issues that have come up today will derail that process unless we let them take our eye off the ball of finishing what we’ve started here,” Barchi said.
“It has been described as the most complicated exercise of its type in this country,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, adding that Barchi and Rutgers better not take their eye off the ball.
“The business of merging these universities and the restructuring act is a matter of law, and it has to be fulfilled and I think the president in place has the skill set to do that,” Burzichelli said.
At an Assembly budget hearing today at Rutgers-Newark, there were concerns that the merger is not funded at all in the governor’s budget, or that Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden will be shortchanged, but not that the merger itself is in trouble.
“The scandal itself — such an unfortunate incident — gives opportunity for many different parties — faculty, students, etc. — who had other grievances to now get a spotlight from the media and bring those forth. So it opens up the proverbial can of worms, unfortunately. But it is my belief that this will not in any way influence the systematic planning that has gone on to bring UMD back to Rutgers,” said Dan O’Connor of the American Association of University Professors.
No one we spoke to today thinks the university merger is in jeopardy, but in one way or another the scandal surrounding Rutgers basketball might just slow it down.