WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The New Jersey Legislature has approved a bill that disbands the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and redistributes it to Rutgers and Rowan Universities in what would be a sweeping re-organization of the state's higher education system.
Passage by the Assembly and Senate capped weeks of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations and pressure on reluctant lawmakers to get the university overhaul through the Legislature by June 30.
The Senate passed the bill 29-to-10 and the Assembly 60-to-18. The bill now heads to Governor Chris Christie.
The governor supports the reorganization of Rutgers as a way to halt the state's so-called "brain drain" where thousands of Garden State grads opt for out-of-state schools.
The original plan included merging Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University, a proposal that ran into political headwinds from faculty and students who opposed the loss of the Rutgers identity in Camden.
Democratic state Senator Joe Vitale told WNYC that one of the most critical last minute changes to the proposal left Rutgers in control of its Camden campus,
That cleared the way for Rutgers University Board of Governors earlier Thursday to give a thumbs up on the latest version of the deal. Any merger requires the approval of both the university's Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.
With Rutgers re-gaining a medical school and Rowan expanding its medical education and research capability New Jersey would be in a much better position to retain and attract bio-science centered businesses, Vitale said.
"Having the intellectual capacity, the researchers, the scientists who work in those fields really gives us the opportunity to provide the kind of research and brain power that those private entities need and want to partner with," Vitale told WNYC.
Republican Senator Diane Allen, who represents the area where UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine is located in South Jersey, said her constituents are uniformly opposed to the merger with Rowan's existing Cooper Medical School.
Allen said she credited the bill's sponsors with trying to find common ground with legislators that have reservations about the deal.
"I suppose in something of this magnitude we are never going to have all the answers at one time at the beginning. I still feel however that we need to take a little more time as we put it together," Allen told WNYC.
The latest merger plan provides protections for the union work force at all of the effected institutions.
Earlier this month, backers of the re-organization committed to Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver and Newark Mayor Cory Booker that any deal would be contingent on enhanced state support for Newark's University Hospital, which will be split off from UMDNJ and partnered with a private hospital chain.
Associated Press contributed reporting