New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a controversial bill into law Aug. 22 to restructure three of the state’s public universities into law on Aug. 22. The plan, which has been in the works since January, will divide the troubled University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) between Rutgers University and Rowan University, reported theWall Street Journal .
Under the complicated merger deal, Rutgers will take over the operations of UMDNJ’s medical, dental, and nursing schools in Newark, as well as the school’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, School of Public Health, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick.The Record stated that Rutgers has also agreed to assume UMDNJ’s $600 million debt.
Rutgers will also add much of UMDNJ’s $1.6 billion annual budget to its own yearly budget of approximately $2.1 billion, which will place the university amongst the top 25 school’s in the nation in terms of research funding. According to the Asbury Park Press, Christie’s plan will also elevate Rowan University to research university status and give the South Jersey school UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, to enhance Rowan’s new medical school.
The plan also directs the legislature to create a joint board to oversee collaborations in medical science programs between Rowan University’s medical school and Rutgers’ Camden campus. Earlier this month Christie signed a bill designed to complement the merger deal by placing a $750 million bond package on the November ballot.
November’s bond initiative will be used to facilitate capital improvements at the newly expanded universities. Christie has also said he will ask the New Jersey Legislature to issue an additional $540 million in bonds to help finance the merger.
If the referendum passes in November, Rowan’s elevation to research university status—a move seen by many as a favor to the state’s Democratic power brokers, such as South Jersey businessman George Norcross and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney—will provide the school access to a $300 million fund, money that will be split with Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Had Rowan remained at state college status after the November bond election, the school would have had to share $247.5 million with New Jersey‘s eight other state schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Norcross—chairman of the Cooper Health System, which has partnered with Rowan’s new medical school—is credited with helping Sweeney reach the Senate president position and assisting Christie in getting reforms to the state’s pension and employee benefits programs passed.
While Christie has denied consulting with Norcross about the merger deal, Norcross has long advocated for a large research university in South Jersey—an area of the state residents feel is often overlooked. Critics felt that early drafts of the plan—which gave Rowan control over Rutgers’ Camden campus, including the law and business schools—were short sighted attempts at improving the prospects of Rowan’s medical school by diminishing the reputation of Rutgers-Camden.
Follow Alex Wukman on Twitter @AlexWukmanCMN