TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie announced his plans for the re-organization of the state’s higher education facilities, including splitting up the Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-New Brunswick campuses.
The plan would: (1) fold a portion of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) into Rutgers-New Brunswick; (2) allow Rowan University to take over Rutgers-Camden and partner with Cooper University Medical School; and (3) create the Health Sciences University in Newark out of other UMDNJ departments to partner with University Hospital.
Christie received the “recommendations and hard truths” of his task force studying the issue, the UMDNJ Advisory Committee, an outgrowth of the Kean Commission on Higher Education. The task force issued a preliminary report in September 2011, which Christie used to soften the ground on the eventual merger plan.
Christie said he will “support that recommendation and do everything in my power” to bring it to fruition. He said an executive reorganization plan would require action from the Legislature within 60 days, but that he would work with the majority leaders to find the fastest method of reorganization that allows for some stakeholder input.
Christie said the state has endured “more than a decade of uncertainty” in a higher education sector that has “failed to adopt long term strategies.”
With the healthcare and biomedical industries burgeoning in New Jersey, Christie said it’s time to make sure the state’s workforce is educated and part of the growth.
“This administration is going to resolve those issues this year,” Christie said. “The report will serve as my administration’s blueprint.”
Alluding to the numerous criminal activities Christie snuffed out at UMDNJ when he was the U.S. Attorney, he said the reorganization will reduce the “potential for error” in what was formerly a “corrupt, ineffective absolute pit of political patronage.”
The new N.J. Health Sciences University in Newark will be made up of the majority of the UMDNJ institution and will aim to “turn the page on past missteps and lawbreaking.” He said it will support Newark’s University Hospital, which will remain under the ownership of the state, but bring on a private sector management company to run the operations. The new school would also retain the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), East Orange, said, “As a start, I’m pleased to see that our demands on maintaining a strong hospital, health care and university presence in Newark were taken into consideration. Still, the Assembly will examine each page of this report and fully understand how it will impact residents.”
Rutgers will refocus its mission in northern New Jersey, Christie said, bearing down on their New Brunswick campus and the three units absorbed from UMDNJ: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and the School of Public Health.
The Rutgers-Camden campus will merge into Rowan University, which Christie lauded for its injection of private investment. This union will team up with Cooper University Medical School. Cooper chairman George Norcross holds considerable sway in the state and has been angling for a plan like this, according to reports.
When asked, Christie said he had not talked to Norcross about the plan, but wouldn’t be surprised if the persistent Norcross had met with the task force commissioners.
“Look behind the curtains back there, he ain’t back there,” Christie said, noting that the South Jersey powerbroker is a “significant player” who as chairman of Cooper would be expected to have a say in the process. “You guys are much more obsessed with George Norcross than I am,” he said. “The governor makes these decisions.”
Christie said rough estimates expect the merger to have no cost to the state outside of the already existing institutional budgets.
Layoffs aren’t expected, assuming the institutions are not overstaffed. “It’s a big assumption,” he said, adding that he will give new managers the “leeway” to make those decisions.
He was clear about his commitment to follow through on the plan. “Make no doubt about it, this change is going to happen,” he said.