It's long established that veteran New Jersey state senators such as Ronald Rice (Essex) and Stephen Sweeney (Gloucester) have little to no regard for either the overall well-being of the state of New Jersey, or of the specific management of the state's public research university, Rutgers, which is such a significant driver of high-value economic activity in New Jersey. No, Rice and Sweeney favor an approach of zero-sum, close-minded parochialism. Instead of trying to increase the size of the pie for everyone, to implement broad-reaching improvements that will go all around, all they care about is carving up the existing pie into bigger and bigger pieces for their respective districts and regions, with zero concern for the broader costs of consequences.
Yes, their folly was evident, and it was surely clear that other legislators like David Wolfe (Ocean) and Patrick Diegnan (Middlesex) were just as willing to exploit and mistreat Rutgers all in the name of scoring political points, all because it remains the one unique, independent institution in the state free from political patronage and mismanagement, the last single remaining vestige of good government in practice. This is literally how misbehaving children behave. If they can't have a toy, then they will break it, so no one can have it. That's our state legislature and government at work folks. Is it any wonder why the state economy is struggling to stay above water? This becomes clearly evident in light of a proposal with the potential to reinvigorate New Jersey's life sciences industry.
A reunion between Rutgers University and its former, unfairly-stolen medical school at UMDNJ in New Brunswick and Piscataway would allow the combined institution to compete for millions in block medical research grants, which the two cannot currently apply for due the need for an undergraduate institution to be tied to a medical school, or even in virtue of simply not being big enough. New Jersey is literally leaving millions of dollars in federal medical research funding on the table. These aren't dead-end jobs that will evaporate into a pit somewhere. They're well-paying jobs that require significant education, training, and skills. Essentially, they are the exact same jobs that made New Jersey thrive economically for decades before its recent malaise started to set in.
We are losing these jobs right now due to bad policy and institutional inertia, and that brain drain out of the state needs to be plugged and reversed without a moment's delay. That is why Rutgers cannot afford not to regain a medical school in New Brunswick and Piscataway, even at the unfair, illogical cost of not only having to surrender its Camden campus to George Norcross, but to watch Norcross plunder the campus of all of its funding and reputation, and watch it crumble under his management and patronage into a pile of dust. It is an awful, terrible, unforgivable price to pay on its own, but this is a devil's bargain where Rutgers has little choice but to condemn its Camden campus to ruin so that the flagship in New Brunswick may thrive. It makes absolutely no sense, it hasn't been vetted at all, but that's the cost for doing busienss.
Or rather, that is how things stood before a recent "compromise" emerged in response to the inevitable, widespread protest in South Jersey in rejection of Norcross's actions. They see how Camden as a whole has decayed under his stewardship, and want no part in any level of him replacing the existing capable managers at Rutgers-Camden with his so-called "guidance." Only in New Jersey could a supposed compromise be far worse than the original plan, allowing Norcross to pillage without penalty, while attempting to swindle prospective students by holding on to the valued Rutgers brand. No less of authorities than a former state Attorney General, and New Jersey's senior United States Senator have levied these allegations.
Despite the merger, the plan would have the Rutgers-Camden campus keep its "Rutgers" name. As former New Jersey Attorney General and current Rutgers-Newark Law School Dean John Farmer Jr. put it, allowing such an entity to call itself Rutgers "amounts to almost consumer fraud."
As could well be predicted, savvy New Jersey students simply cannot be taken for suckers this easily, as prospective students have abandoned Rutgers-Camden in droves, in collective horror, at the prospect of paying their tuition money into George Norcross's coffers. The people are voting with their dollars, and they do not want George Norcross and Steve Sweeney to have any say, whatsoever, in the operations of Rutgers-Camden by resounding margins. Norcross can rail all he likes about the fiction of "sending dollars up the turnpike", but the voters have spoken. Given the choice, they'll stick with the status quo, thanks. How exactly is Norcross going to give South Jersey 30% of the state's higher education seats when his branding and reputation is so toxic that no one who isn't politically dependent on his voting block or campaign contributions is even willing to give him the time of day at the moment?
That's the part that really gets you. Norcross/Sweeney and Ronald Rice may be sworn enemies, but they do agree on several salient points. Those being that political patronage and emphasizing strict local parochialism should be the name of the game, above doing what's right solely on the basis of merit. The hypocritical Rice certainly does not object to Rutgers University being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, not in the slightest. He only frets because the spoils will largely go to Norcross instead of a political boss in Essex County, as they did forty years ago at the unholy, corrupt original formulation of UMDNJ.
Ok, it's dumb and a surefire path to economic ruin, but parochialism makes sense on one level. Why the heck then are Middlesex County legislators like Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblyman John Wisnewski (a Rutgers alumnus, no less) pledging fealty to Norcross? Look, I could understand supporting the proposal under the theory that a medical school in New Brunswick is worth any cost, being in too much political debt to Norcross to care, or just plain not reading the relevant details before giving a rubber stamp of approval. Sweeney's initial legislation however, it's not just the initial offer a mere trade/indecent proposal. It is no less than a knife at the throat of Rutgers University, designed to gut the sacrosanct Rutgers Act of 1956, give politicians free reign to corrupt and decay the school as they do with all other things that they get their grubby little hands on, and give Sweeney/Norcross free reign to piggyback on the good name of Rutgers while extracting every single asset of value from Rutgers-Camden all in the name of bailing out debt-ridden Rowan's new Cooper Medical School in Camden.
This apostasy, this outright treason is completely unacceptable from ANY legislator representing Middlesex or Somerset Counties, much less the entire state of New Jersey. We already knew that Diegnan was treacherous. Now we can say with confidence as well that Vitale (of Woodbridge) and Wisnewski (a Rutgers alumnus from Sayreville) are perfectly willing to sell the biggest economic driver in their county, if not the entire state, up the Raritan. Alan Karcher would be rolling over in his grave if he ever had the misfortune to hear of this. Frankly, support for Rutgers should be a litmus test statewide, with politicians racing to pander to the voting block in increasing levels of desperation. That will not happen overnight, but to be stabbed in the back by the very same people elected by Middlesex County voters to represent their interests in Trenton is a Driscoll Bridge too far.
Expectations were hardly high to begin with after a decade of vacillating between hostility and neglect under the Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine gubernatorial administrations (Tom Kean was the last real friend that Rutgers had in Trenton.) Even then, this represents a new low in a state that has practically seen it all. Vitale, Diegnan, and Wisnewski are uniquely, patently unfit for office after signing on for this betrayal, and should be voted out - whether in a primary or general election, at the closest available opportunity. They have forfeited any say in the future of governing Middlesex County by attempting to pass legislation to give an unelected, wildly unpopular political boss from Cherry Hill dominion over our local affairs, much less in matters affecting the entire state.