The New Jersey legislature has finally recognized the obvious: their proposed merger bill is plain unconstitutional without the approval of Rutgers University governing boards, which up to this point have largely been a bystander in the process, as the Newark and Camden delegations demanded unfair concession after unfair concession. Not only were those self-serving changes largely unacceptable to Rutgers, but the backroom politicians making those deals did not have authority to negotiate for Rutgers! Now the question becomes who blinks with Christie's July 30th deadline fast approaching. There's the old car salesman trick, where terms of a deal change at the last minute, and you go along with it anyway because you are already far too invested in negotiations. That's the pratfall that has to be avoided. Rutgers needs to be ready to walk away, because they only get one thing they want in this deal, at too high a cost. (While the original, simple Camden for UMDNJ-NB trade was unfair, it still would have been a net boon for the university.) It's time to tell Norcross off. The only part of this merger that makes any sense at all is the New Brunswick part, and that should be the only change that happens.
The gist of the statement is essentially that the current proposal is insane and a horrible deal for Rutgers, but let's talk. Obviously, you have lots of different factions at play here. Ralph Izzo on the BoG is very close to Chris Christie, but he also has to recognize how bad this deal is; but on the other hand, his loyalty is to Rutgers, not Rutgers Camden, and Izzo won't hesitate to negotiate for a better deal. On the other hand, you have Camden professors and students who are opposed to a deal under any circumstances. To them, all I can say is that if the Rutgers BoT/BoG releases a statement that does not outright dismiss the proposal, like it or not, it's time to make preparations that your campus is going to be traded for a medical school. If the deal is right, that always has been and always will be a very easy choice for Rutgers. Of course, this deal is not right, not even close. Rutgers needs to torpedo all of the Newark proposals, refuse to take on UMDNJ's debt, stop George Norcross from using the Rutgers name, extract additional financial concessions, and maybe even consolidate the law schools in New Brunswick. The Sweeney proposal could not possibly be a worse piece of legislation, which is why Loretta Weinberg's statement of praise, and support from other Senate Democrats like Paul Sarlo and Joe Vitale (a traitor to Middlesex County if there ever was one) are enough to induce vomit. As for Farmer's article, the points are correct with respect to Sweeney's awful proposal. However, as to the broader idea of separating Rutgers-Camden, I don't really agree. It's clear that Norcross U would be a clown college with no academic prestige, and it would be completely devoid of funding as all resources are shifted into debt-ridden Cooper Medical School. Therefore, there is no chance that it would pose a genuine threat to Rutgers. The thing is though that this so-called university cannot be allowed to use the Rutgers name, and that Sweeney's idea to designate Rowan as the research university for South Jersey, and Rutgers as the research university for North Jersey must be eviscerated, never to return. Now and forever, Rutgers must retain its status and sole designation the state university for all of New Jersey - regardless of whether it keeps its satellite campuses in Newark and Camden or not.
As expected, the proposal includes provisions for new governing boards in Newark and Camden, which is anathema and unacceptable to the Rutgers boards. George Norcross is still free to loot the Camden campus. Other changes include: 1. As an apparent end-run around Newark's excessive desire for political bribes, Sweeney proposes that Rutgers absorb EVERY UMDNJ asset except for University Hospital. Actually, Rutgers would not want to do this, because UMDNJ is a political patronage mill more than a medical school. It does create the super-patronage mill that Essex County politicians want though, and NJIT has to feel nervous tonight that they will be next in the crosshairs to be gobbled up. 2. In an effort to further curb RU's political independence, Stephen Sweeney's proposal would increase the size of the university's board of governors from 11 to 15 members. Sweeney does concede that the proposal will change, and Newark is definitely gearing for a fight. Now it's up to Rutgers to pit these two groups of fools against each other, and somehow get out of this mess by regaining its stolen medical school.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who holds nothing resembling a college or university degree, now has it in mind that the state of New Jersey should circumvent and gut the Rutgers Act of 1956. This is no less than an open declaration of warfare by Sweeney and his puppet master George Norcross against Rutgers, and therefore, Rutgers should respond in kind. The most disgusting part? Middlesex County legislator Joe Vitale, who should be screaming at the top of his lungs defending Rutgers, is supposedly abetting Sweeney and Norcross in their dirty dealings. As that Ledger article points out, patronage-minded politicians in Newark and Camden are treating this merger proposal as an opportunity to loot the state university of its prestige and treasure, and this cannot be allowed. Both are still stuck in the moronic, simplistic view of this issue as a zero sum game of local politics, rather than the correct view of an opportunity to strengthen the state university of New Jersey while enhancing the state's life sciences industry. Rutgers should not stand for it, New Jersey voters should not stand for it, and New Jersey economic heavyweights such as Johnson & Johnson and Merck should not stand for it either. We stand at the precipice of an opportunity to do an enormous, practically unbound level of good for the state economy by returning the illegally, immorally stolen Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine to its rightful owner in Rutgers University. Yet, all these clowns care about is greasing their palms and looking out for number one. It's downright pathetic. There is little wonder why New Jersey's higher education is suffering. With politicians like these, how could it not? That's why New Jerseyans need to stand against this horrific attempt to broach the sacred Rutgers Act of 1956, and demand that Governor Christie stand up to George Norcross, do what's right, and only move forward with the New Brunswick portions of the merger while tabling every other proposal. Update: let's be clear on this - Newark's politicians are just as craven, reprehensible, and opportunistic as Camden's. I guess it's a point of pride that we don't stand for that kind of garbage in Central Jersey, but this is just absurd. This isn't about regional parochialism. It's about the general welfare of the entire state. Someone has to step up and be an advocate for all of New Jersey against these thieves and criminals. Frankly, Gov. Christie is abdicating his role and responsibility if he does not take a stand against these demands. Update2: some more on Newark's excessive, outrageous demands.
Bob Braun has a column today where he notes that, given the choice, Richard McCormick would choose the UMDNJ campus in New Brunswick/Piscataway over Rutgers-Camden. Of course he would, because even with the downsides and problems with the Rowan deal, Rutgers still ends up far ahead in any trade. The odd thing about Braun's column though is his concern over UMDNJ's debt. Isn't most of the debt with UMDNJ's Newark campus, especially with University Hospital? There is always the possibility that UMDNJ would try to sandbag Rutgers in trying to force it to take on debt as a condition of the merger, but otherwise, I am not sure about the premises of Braun's larger article. It might take a while to unravel UMDNJ's finances, but Rutgers should stand firm on the point that it should not have to absorb any Newark-related debt. In other news, Rowan University has released its plan for a hypothetical merger with Rutgers-Camden, and it is predictably bad. (Down to the opening graphic on the front page of the report. Ocean County isn't South Jersey!) The plan demands "equal" funding at the same level as Rutgers and NJIT, which makes no sense given that Rutgers is a world-class research university. Given the legislature's lack of inclination to higher ed, that means money coming out of RU's pocket. The report also assumes that there won't be a mass exodus out of the Camden campus after a merger, which is certainly being threatened by existing faculty and students. This all seems awfully ambitious given that the Rutgers board is threatening to block any merger, though that is basic negotiating 101. Even the likes of Greg Brown, the Rutgers alumnus and Motorola CEO who is very close to Christie, are objecting. Maybe Brown can be a useful counterbalance to the influence of George Norcross with Christie. Update: the Philadelphia Inquirer today has a lengthy feature on Norcross.
If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop, it just did. Unfortunately, this may be why Rutgers has to give up the Camden campus. With Republicans and South Jersey Democrats voting as a bloc with Central Jersey Democrats already on board, then there's no way to gum up the UMDNJ merger in Ne Brunswick. It simply has to happen, and it's sad to see Cory Booker descending into regional parochialism over the state's collective welfare. In that respect, he's just as bad as all of the worst Essex County politicians throughout history.
This interview was just linked on Rivals. Listen Norcross, you want to sell South Jersey on a merger, we get it. But to claim that "hundreds of millions" are being spent on Rutgers football is an outright lie. Stop the lies now, or a tepid Rutgers-New Brunswick response to the merger in Camden will turn into open warfare.
That's the way it seems from this article. EVERYONE on the Camden campus - faculty, students, administrators - is revolting against joining Rowan. That raises an interesting question. Is Rutgers regaining its medical school in New Brunswick tied to giving up the Camden campus? GOP legislators obviously do whatever Chris Christie tells them with the rare exception, and South Jersey legislators votes in a block with George Norcross. Throw in an Essex County delegation that is strongly opposed to losing their subsidy from New Brunswick, and the med school merger could be in real trouble if its votes are contingent on Rutgers ceding Camden. The question becomes then whether that is a requirement or not. My guess: yes. Chris Christie owes Norcross too much for getting almost his entire agenda passed during the past two years (in a state where Democrats dominate on paper), and the other big Democratic boss, Joe DiVincenzo of Essex, is against the merger. So essentially, the Camden campus is going to be devastated if they can't figure out a compromise. Does the Rowan name have to stay in place? Can they just merge Rowan into Rutgers-Camden, and just give Norcross free reign over the hospital? Because if not, and a deal means devastating Rutgers-Camden...then the Rutgers Board of Governors basically has no choice but to go along with that. Better to have one great school than two under the yoke of low expectations. Regaining the medical school in New Brunswick is such an overwhelming positive that it negates all other factors. Update: and it looks like there will be hearings.
This is about to get real. Please don't endanger the New Brunswick merger, Please don't endanger the New Brunswick merger, Please don't endanger the New Brunswick merger... Actually, one really interesting quote from the article is that the faculty Senate president at Camden says Rutgers turned down George Norcross's overtures to build a hospital in Camden several years back, which Rowan then jumped all over. In the article, it's suggested that Rutgers would have a far better negotiating position today had they only went along with Norcross's plans for a medical school. As Norcross and all of the South Jersey partisans would probably respond in private, that line of thinking...assumes that Rutgers-New Brunswick is all that concerned for its satellite campuses in Newark and Camden. Which, it really isn't. Supposedly, the fear in Camden is that when push comes to shove, Rutgers will sacrifice them for a medical school in New Brunswick - and that's exactly what advocates for the New Brunswick campus would do in a heartbeat. With all due respect, we have to watch out for our own, which is what anyone could be expected to do. That's why the spectre of big bad boogeyman Norcross seizing Rutgers-Camden and enveloping it into his patronage mill may not be that bad of an idea. Some people on Rivals were debating the other day how Rutgers has actually suffered over the years by refusing to play ball with the likes of former Middlesex County political boss John Lynch. Here's a compromise idea for Camden. They keep the Rowan name, because of the restrictions tied to the $100m grant to Glassboro State that originally led to the renaming. However, instead of lowering standards at the Camden campus, their criteria for admissions and tenure have to be extended to Rowan. Would that work?
but, it's not even close to the most important thing to happen to Rutgers this week. When you consider the actual dollars involved, the merger with UMDNJ-New Brunswick passing a crucial milestone is far, far more important. The athletics subsidy is a rounding error in the school's budget. Re-establishing Rutgers Medical School will add hundreds of millions in research dollars every year. Not that this plea will do any good, but let's at least try to keep some perspective here, okay? UMDNJ is the biggest priority for Rutgers right now, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is bringing some of his trademark tough rhetoric into the equation, promising that he will personally make the difference in securing this deal where previous attempts failed. Rutgers alumnus Ray Lesniak is way out of line in criticizing a deal that will still be fantastic for Rutgers-New Brunswick. (Lesniak is choosing North Jersey parochialism over his alumni status, insisting that Rutgers should engage in a full merger with UMDNJ and NJIT in Newark.) The fate of Rutgers-Camden is a complicated issue, with valid arguments on both sides. The New Brunswick merger is not. It is an unambiguous slam dunk with absolutely no downsides whatsoever. Newark remains a concern, and Rutgers-Camden is gearing up to fight the merger tooth and nail. Ultimately, their fate lies with the Rutgers Board of Trustees - who may not want to give up Camden, but certainly would if that was the price required to guarantee and secure the future of the New Brunswick campus. Between that factor, and South Jersey legislators being indebted to George Norcross, it will be an uphill battle. Okay, for the sports fans here - there's another interesting question with the proposed merger in South Jersey. Would the combined school decide to upgrade to DI athletics?
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