Rutgers/Rowan merger critical to South Jersey, supporters say

GLASSBORO – Backers of the plan to merge Rowan University with Rutgers/Camden sought to frame the proposal this morning as

GLASSBORO – Backers of the plan to merge Rowan University with Rutgers/Camden sought to frame the proposal this morning as an educational and economic effort critical to Southern New Jersey.

Opponents, however, said that this forced merger will exacerbate, not solve, higher education problems in the southern portion of the state.

A joint Senate/Assembly Higher Education hearing into the Christie administration’s proposed higher education reorganization held at Rowan today drew forth supporters who presented the stakes as nothing less than the survival of the southern portion of the state. Merging with Rowan and the Cooper Medical School will attract research dollars, supporters said.

Rowan’s acting President, Ali Houshmand, and Cooper Health Systems President and CEO John Sheridan pointed out that while Southern New Jersey – the state’s fastest-growing area – has 2.5 million residents, about 30 percent of the population, it receives only slightly more than 10 percent of the state higher education appropriations.

Twenty-four percent of South Jersey adults have a college degree, 13 percent less than North Jersey, according to Sheridan.

The budgets of Rowan and Stockton are less than 10 percent of the $5 billion in budgets North Jersey institutions have, he said.

If Southern New Jersey is to avoid falling behind the rest of the world, this merger “is absolutely essential, it is strategic,’’ Houshmand told the committee.

Yet opponents said Camden actually will suffer if this change occurs. They said the merger would cause an exodus of Rutgers’ “world-class” faculty, harm Camden-area adult students who would not be able to travel to New Brunswick to attend Rutgers’ campus there, cause a decrease in funding by foundations that have been investing in “the Rutgers brand,” and harm the city overall by wounding its economy.

Yet Rowan board Chairman James Gruccio said that the merger is essential in order for Southern New Jersey to “struggle against the competition across the river.”

In contrast, Rutgers history professor Margaret Marsh said that the commission that recommended this merger did not even take into account the resulting, “incredibly high,” costs that it will incur.

And that was one of the issues that committee member Sen. Nellie Pou touched on, that key personnel from each institution were not consulted by the commission members nor the governor’s office as this proposal was being developed.

Rutgers Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett said that he agreed that expanding Southern New Jersey’s research capacity is critical and that its higher education institutions need real investment, but that this merger would not accomplish those goals.

“It will deplete the availability of knowledge-driven workers,’’ he warned.

But there is no deadline to accomplish this by July, as some believe, the committee was told by Rutgers VP for Public Affairs Peter McDonough, who said practical and economic issues – including bonding – remain.

In January, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey advisory committee recommended the merger.

  Rutgers/Rowan merger critical to South Jersey, supporters say