By Jeanne Fox and Lora Fong
We write as private citizens on behalf of ourselves and other Rutgers trustees to disagree with a recent piece endorsing the UMDNJ Advisory Committee (Barer) Report’s proposal that Rowan University take over Rutgers-Camden. This is a terrible idea for New Jersey and for Rutgers.
Instead, Rutgers-Camden can partner with Rowan to support its new Cooper Medical School. Such partnership costs little, while a takeover would be prohibitively expensive for taxpayers. Partnership alternatives have been presented to government officials and interested parties behind closed doors; thus far, the response has been silence. We must open those doors so voters can judge for themselves how the future of higher education in New Jersey is being decided.
It has been said that “enough is known to give an informed opinion” about losing Camden. We disagree. While the Barer Committee provided reasons for the boards to consider its recommendations regarding the merger of the medical schools into Rutgers — consideration that is ongoing — it emerged at our recent trustees meeting that the committee: a) identified no written data or studies to support giving away Rutgers-Camden; b) interviewed no Rutgers-Camden deans, faculty, students or alumni; and c) failed to consider the practical, academic, financial or human consequences of abandoning Rutgers-Camden. In response to our questions, Sol Barer, chair of the advisory committee, did not convince us when explaining his support for eliminating our university in Camden.
There are many reasons why merger is a bad idea:
• Merger leaves fewer higher education options and eliminates the only nationally renowned research university in South Jersey. Merger supporters assume Rowan’s takeover will produce a large research university. But research universities require billions in investments (in libraries, faculty, labs, etc.) and take decades to develop.
It took Rutgers until 1989 to achieve elite AAU research university status. It will take decades to reinvent the wheel once Rutgers-Camden and South Jersey are cut off from the rest of Rutgers. Barer himself said his proposal was for his grandchildren, but South Jersey residents deserve equal access to a Rutgers education right now.
• Merger costs New Jersey taxpayers. No one knows how much because Barer was told not to ask about costs. We do know that it will require years and untold millions of dollars to integrate two completely different universities. This money must come almost entirely from our cash-strapped state because Rowan is financially stretched already.
These crushing costs are unnecessary. Partnership is an efficient way to work together to support Rowan’s medical school. Partnership, not domination, is the win-win solution.
• Merger jeopardizes American Bar Association accreditation currently bestowed on the Rutgers School of Law-Camden. ABA rules clearly state that accreditation or approval of a law school is not transferable. If Rowan takes over the Rutgers-Camden School of Law, it will have to ask the ABA for permission to avoid provisional accreditation as a new law school.
ABA evaluation is demanding and will examine Rowan’s financial management, governance and academic freedom. There is no assurance that Rowan has the resources to support an accredited law school, which was a basis upon which both the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Camden County Bar Association oppose takeover by Rowan. A law school severed from Rutgers would simply not be the nationally prominent institution that we have today.
• If it abandons the fastest-growing third of the state, Rutgers will lose more than Rutgers-Camden. It will no longer be the state university of New Jersey, but only a state university in New Jersey. It will sacrifice long-developed research synergies across its campuses, lose tremendous annual revenues forever and diminish its status among peer statewide public universities. Rutgers’ hard-earned good name would be tarnished by the elevation of politics over educational mission. New Jersey deserves better and so does Rutgers.
Any proposal to abandon Rutgers-Camden must be considered separately from the acquisition of a medical school; they are not interrelated. Just as the medical school’s costs and benefits are being studied, Rutgers-Camden deserves no less. We, and 57 percent of the state and 71 percent of South Jersey (with only 22 percent supporting a takeover), do not believe that merger supporters can justify a Rowan takeover of Rutgers-Camden. Independent Rutgers and Rowan should be good neighbors and good partners.
Jeanne Fox and Lora Fong are, respectively, member emeritus and member of the Rutgers University Board Of Trustees.