As Protesters Rally at Rutgers-Camden, Consortium, Not Merger, Discussed

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meetings of the Rutgers Board of Governors are usually staid affairs. The February 15 convocation was anything but: Hundreds of students and faculty -- some bearing signs and banners -- were there to protest the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University.

Inside the Walter K. Gordon Theater at Rutgers-Camden, university President Richard L. McCormick addressed the same issue.

"We argued that severing Rutgers-Camden from the rest of the university was not a good idea," McCormick said to applause from over 600 members of the school community, referring to meetings with the Barer committee before its overhaul recommendations were released last month.

More specifically, the committee recommended that Rutgers-Camden, including its law and business schools, should be folded into Rowan University, which is centered in Glassboro.

"Our staff and administration have instead advocated for the creation of a consortium that includes all of South Jersey's institutions of higher learning without sacrificing their independence and identity," McCormick said. "This would achieve the goals of enhancing and expanding higher education in South Jersey without dismantling Rutgers."

It is unclear, however, how a consortium would work.

The Rutgers-Rowan merger is uniquely colored by identity politics. The separate identity of Rutgers-Camden as an institution and the regional identity of South Jersey were raised several times at the Board of Governors meeting.

Rutgers-Camden history professor Jacob Soll -- who was supposed to be honored at the meeting for being awarded a MacArthur "genius grant" -- made no bones about the importance of Rutgers' separate identity, among other issues.

Soll wasn't inside waiting to be praised; he was outside protesting with over 300 students against the proposed merger.

"This place works because of the Rutgers name. I got my MacArthur genius grant from here in part because of my access to research capabilities in all parts of Rutgers. It didn't get that from Rowan."

"Nobody came here and asked us what we thought. There has been no transparency," Soll said. "Where is the money going to come from for this? It's not there."

Rutgers-Camden also works for Javier Diaz, an undergraduate student and a veteran of the first Gulf War.

"This merger will take away the option of people in South Jersey for attending Rutgers without having to make a drastic move," Diaz said. "It will force people to attend more local schools that don't have as good a reputation as Rutgers."

Detractors of the plan assign blame for the proposed merger to the support of George Norcross, the prominent Democratic party boss of South Jersey, who many political observers claim has formed a tacit alliance with Gov. Chris Christie.

Norcross, a strong supporter of Rowan, worked hard to bring Cooper Medical School under the former's name, in an effort to create a strong South Jersey university with its own distinct identity.

Norcross defended the proposal in a recent editorial as one that will make Camden a "safe, vibrant" city. The merger, he argued, would bring more people and businesses to Camden through the gradual expansion of the Rutgers-Camden campus.

Christie has decried any inference that Norcross influenced his decision to back the consolidation. But when State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) spoke during the public comments segment of the meeting, he was met by jeers after lauding Christie's attempts to bring about institutional change.

"It would be horrible to kill an idea when you don't know what it is," Sweeney said. "Let's take a deep breath and get to the details and understand what we're dealing with. A consortium, a partnership, a merger -- let's work this out."

Speaking in support of South Jersey, Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) said, "Make no mistake about it -- the days of throwing a bone to South Jersey for a couple of resources are over."

Sen. Norcross, who is George's brother, also indicated that he would like to keep the Rutgers brand in South Jersey.

"We need these resources here in South Jersey, not just the ones that the Rutgers board want to give to us, but the ones that are owed to South Jersey," Norcross added.

Public opinion seems to favor the protesting Rutgers-Camden students' position: a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released yesterday showed that 57 percent of New Jersey voters are against the Rutgers-Rowan merger, with only 22 percent in support of the move. The ultimate decision, however, lies in the hands of the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

Rutgers officials have gone on record as saying that any merger with Rowan would require their approval.

After the meeting, McCormick acknowledged that, while there are many unknowns accompanying any potential merger or consortium, there were certain details that needed to be nailed down before any move takes place.

"We need to elaborate on how a combined university would be supported and what resources will be available," McCormick said. "No one to my knowledge has even begun to estimate the costs of integrating Rutgers-Camden and Rowan."

NJ Spotlight is an online news service providing insight and information on issues critical to New Jersey, with the aim of informing and engaging the state’s communities and businesses. Read more From New Jersey Spotlight.


Comments [3]

Cara B from Collingswood, NJ

Stop the merger. Support a consortium.

Feb. 18 2012 02:44 AM
Elizabeth Demaray from New Jersey

Rutgers University at Camden is ranked the #1 campus in student satisfaction in the Rutgers system and the campus is THRIVING. Camden annually contributes millions of net dollars to the central administration and it has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years alone. People choose to attend Rutgers Camden not only because it is a great research institution, but because they know that, in these tough economic times, a nationally recognized degree from Rutgers is a bankable commodity. While we at RU laud all focus on education in South Jersey, we strongly disagree with any plan that does not afford the South Jersey students of the future the option of attaining a degree from Rutgers.

Feb. 17 2012 09:13 AM
William FitzGerald

The idea of a super university formed by the combined assets of both institutions is a fine one--on paper. In reality, the picture is far more complicated because, unlike banks or office supply stores, universities have very different cultures, funding structures, hiring and promotion practices. A hostile takeover of one university by another is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, the state of New Jersey has been given a great opportunity to lead the way by exploring new models of collaboration. Both Rutgers Camden and Rowan would be far more able to reap the opportunities for investment in the jobs of tomorrow if the resources that will go to forcing them to merge were give to allow them to develop in complementary ways, building ever closer ties. A monopoly on higher education, especially in a region already hurting for educational choice, is never a wise public policy.

Feb. 16 2012 05:04 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.