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The higher ed bond and Rutgers

Rutgers at the polls on election day

Tomorrow a battered and freezing New Jersey heads to the polls to select a president, representatives in Congress, and any number of county and local officials. In light of the recent suffering, voter apathy is certainly understandable, and moreover it really is not right to criticize a person's civic beliefs or lack thereof. However, there is an issue at the polls tomorrow that is of great interest to Rutgers University and the broader Rutgers community, one that deserves careful consideration from voters regardless of whether or not they ultimately decide to support the measure or not.

I am speaking about the proposed higher education facilities bond measure, which is the first of its kind in the state since 1988. New Jersey's public higher education institutions, and specifically Rutgers University, have battled chronic underfunding for over two decades now. The state of New Jersey arbitrarily caps in-state tuition and limits out-of-state enrollment as a condition of receiving its dollars, but it turn, has steadily cut that figure regardless of which party was in power. Our state university has been squeezed on both ends, and has steadily suffered as a result. One side inevitably had to give, and as (likely) payback to South Jersey political boss George Norcross, Governor Christie and a bipartisan coalition, including many enemies of Rutgers such as Sen. Stephen Sweeney, have joined together to support the proposed bond measure that is on the ballot tomorrow. This proposal would allow the state to issue new bonds to pay for additional construction.

Even the measure's supporters have to concede that the proposal is highly flawed. The issues include:

  • Allowing Rowan University to receive a disproportionate share of funds. Bankrupt medical school or not, Rowan is a research university only in name, and the very notion that it should receive compensation on the level of Rutgers, NJIT, and the former UMDNJ solely on the basis of political patronage and projected future growth is absurd.
  • As hard as it may be to believe considering Rutgers's internal reputation for bureaucracy and shoddy governance, it does have a reputation for maintaining fiscal discipline and long-term planning. This is, of course, in stark contrast to other institutions like the afore-mentioned UMDNJ, which is rightly ceasing existence at the end of this academic year. Similarly, other state institutions like Kean, Rowan, and Montclair have developed their own ignoble reputations for mismanagement and/or excessive debt, and rewarding them for their excessive ambition seems wrong-headed.
  • Most distressing of all is the notion that state, public funds will be allocated to private universities such as Seton Hall. The language thankfully contains an anti-Princeton clause to ensure that private universities with large endowments will not receive funding, but this continuing level of regional parochialism and patronage at the district level in the legislature is both distressing and a sad commentary on the current state of the local political process. Unfortunately, this may be necessary given that the bond

Essentially, it's a crummy proposal due to the fact that this measure will be a hodge podge of Christmas tree hand outs to most of the bad actors in New Jersey higher education. A better proposal would give a larger percentage of the funds on merit, rewarding and enhancing Rutgers's privileged status as New Jersey's premier public research institution. Rowan would be downgraded to its true status as a teacher's college, and additional safeguards would be put in place to prevent continuing fraud and abuse from the usual suspects. Then, to make the proposal more equitable to need, there should also be a higher allocation to the state's community colleges.

It is not the purpose of this site or this post to tell readers how to vote, if to vote at all. That is a decision that they can only make themselves. However, for Rutgers-minded voters, the choice is clear that this proposal will benefit the school even despite its many, innumerate flaws, and therefore any such individual ought to be bound to vote for the bond. Having capital on hand is always better than not, and these funds would go a long, long way towards desperately needed projects that are vital towards keeping Rutgers strong, and keeping New Jersey competitive economically.