The monied benefactor after whom Rowan University is named said he doesn’t want the New Jersey school to lose its namesake if it merges with Rutgers-Camden.
Henry Rowan, 86, gave $100 million to Glassboro State College – the largest single private gift to a university in U.S. history at the time – which changed its name in his honor after receiving the gift in 1992.
Now, Governor Chris Christie is proposing a makeover of New Jersey’s higher education system that merges Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University.
The announcement of a Rutgers-Rowan merger has put the spotlight on a South Jersey institution that many residents didn’t even know was a state school.
The faculty, students and alumni at Rutgers-Camden want to retain the Rutgers name. But that’s something Rowan University can’t give up.
“I’d rather that didn’t happen,” said Henry Rowan, 86, the founder of Inductotherm Industries, which he started in his garage and grew into the world’s largest maker of induction heating and melting equipment for both industrial and military uses.
“We started some years ago to form and support the Rowan name for education, and I’m not anxious to change it.”
Rowan lives in Feasterville-Trevose, Pa., a bucolic town about 30 minutes West of Trenton in a large stucco house that overlooks an expanse of woods and pasture.
The money transformed Glassboro State, and Rowan’s vision of establishing a top notch engineering school has come to pass.
A merger with Rutgers University-Camden would take the school to the next level by capitalizing on “pockets of excellence” in both institutions, said Joe Cardona, spokesman of Rowan University.
Keeping the Rowan name isn’t just about honoring the gift, Cardona said, it’s also about keeping independent control and not being dominated by the central campus of Rutgers in New Brunswick.
“We see the problems that lie right now with that relationship between Rutgers-Camden, Rutgers-New Brunswick and Rutgers-Newark,” Cardona said. “We see there are flaws in that and us depending in South Jersey on North Jersey institutions to invest in South Jersey.”
Cardona said the merger would keep more students in state and contribute to economic growth in South Jersey. The region has the fewest number of residents with college degrees in the state, and lower-than average incomes.
But Joni Finney, director of the Institute for Research in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said the merger is less about serving the needs of students and more about political deal-making.
“That’s how this whole thing got started, a deal between a powerful Democrat in the state and a powerful Republican governor,” Finney said. “And I think the state needs to step back from this and really look at what does New Jersey need from its higher education system.”
Most Rutgers student and faculty members on campus want to keep the Rutgers name.
“We would not be as strong as we are now,” said Ray Solomon, dean of the law school at Rutgers-Camden. “We recruit nationally now and we wouldn’t be in a position to do that as well. As least in the short run.”
Christie is pushing to get the entire reorganization plan approved by the legislature by July. And he has successfully split the Democratic majority in the legislature because South Jersey Democrats, believing it will crate a bigger, better university for the region, support the Rutgers-Rowan merger.
That might be all the governor needs to push his plan through.
Critics say Christie hasn’t provided enough details about what the reorganization would cost. And even Rowan’s benefactor, Henry Rowan, isn’t concerned about expanding the school.
“I don’t really care whether they do or not,” Rowan said. “I think it will make it a somewhat more powerful college, but I don’t think that’s necessary to have a good education.”
Correction: WNYC originally reported that Governor Chris Christie was proposing a makeover of New Jersey’s higher education system that would move the medical school out of Newark and merge Rutgers-Camden with Rowan. This is incorrect. The governor is proposing the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick become part of Rutgers' main campus, and that the university hospital in Newark be run by a private-public partnership.