When South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross met with the Star-Ledger last month to lay out what a “compromise” in the takeover of the Rutgers-Camden campus might look like, he said he was putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Now, his chief agent in the legislature, Steve Sweeney, has shown what all the king’s men have created: a monster system that is takeover by another name. If this version of the reorganization passes with the consent of the Rutgers boards, the university’s independence will be compromised forever.

                A primary element in the proposed reorganization of higher education in the state is a measure to grant both the Newark and Camden campuses greater autonomy from control in New Brunswick.  Each campus would have its own board of trustees and receive its own appropriation directly from the state, while still operating under the Rutgers name.  In Camden, however, the new board of trustees would be under the authority—fiscal and operational—of a newly created board of governors that would have ultimate authority to accept or reject actions not just of Rutgers Camden’s new board, but also of Rowan’s existing board.

                The proposed legislation posted by Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney late yesterday may appear to be keeping Rutgers in South Jersey, but it is a merger of the two institutions by another name.   George Norcoss, the primary proponent of a merger in South Jersey, could not help but admitting as much by crowing to the Inquirer—the paper he has become managing partner of at the height of the takeover controversy—that the proposed legislation would “create a new research university of over 20,000 students with a medical school, a law school, and engineering school, and two great universities in Rowan and Rutgers-Camden.” This has been the theme of takeover proponents from the moment Norcross first proposed a University of South Jersey in October, 2010.

                Two great universities acting as one?  That’s the proposition, as the legislation states clearly in Section 19 creating the Joint Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, the board shall have full authority over all matters concerning the supervision and operations of Rowan University and Rutgers University Camden.”  This new board, which would substitute for Rutgers-Camden for the board of governors in New Brunswick and add yet another layer of authority over the existing board at Rowan, would have seven members—two each from Rutgers-Camden and Rowan—the remaining three appointed by the governor.  Since under the proposed legislation the governor appoints all members of the board of trustees at Rowan, he or she would have effective control over the governing body of the two existing universities.

                The challenge to Rutgers’s integrity is obvious.  Through the device of a 99 year lease, to be compensated at a rate of $1 a year, Rutgers would in effect be giving away the physical assets of its Camden campus, valued conservatively at between $100 and $150 million.  Section 19 proposes directly to override the authority of Rutgers’s existing board of trustees by prefacing the establishment of authority in the new joint board of governors with the language, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary.”  If the Rutgers Board of Trustees agrees to that provision alone, it will have effectively negated the acts of 1945 and 1956 establishing Rutgers as the state university of New Jersey.

                While some at Rutgers-Newark may welcome the concessions Mayor Cory Booker apparently wrested from South Jersey Democrats, New Brunswick should be mortified by the provision that would stick the university with all of UMDNJ’s debt, some $660 million.  Combined with the effective loss of the Camden Campus and other costs the state would saddle the university with, the bill could well approach the $1 billion and more estimated for the Vagelos report issued more than a decade ago.  At least then Rutgers was given a chance to reject the terms of the proposed reorganization.  This legislation would force Rutgers to accept arrangements it did not initiate and it did not offer to pay for. In this light, it’s hard to see how Richard McCormick could praise the proposal, except to add yet another misstep on his part that has led Rutgers to this crisis in its history.

                Crisis is not too strong a word.  The proposed legislation would not just force Rutgers to shrink its authority in the state, it would give the governor four additional appointments to the Board of Governors for the central campus, effectively giving this governor and every successor effective control over higher education at every level.

                Had this been a mutually devised approach to meeting needs in higher education, one could see working with the system that has been proposed.  Instead, we are being asked to rely on a political bargain driven by South Jersey Democrats.

                Give them credit. South Jersey Democrats have followed the script laid out by the consultants they hired to implement the takeover last November.   “It is important that those responsible for managing the transition to a New Rowan university spend as little time as possible explaining how and why the protests have missed the point,” the University of Pennsylvania’s Learning Alliance advised in its January 26, 2012 report. “Rather,   those responsible for managing the transition to a New Rowan University should spend the great majority of their time describing the opportunities a New Rowan University makes possible.”  When objections overwhelmed the positive narrative deemed appropriate for the takeover, George Norcross took unprecedented steps to change the conversation, generating extensive interviews at the Courier Post as well as the Star-Ledger, both of which remain posted as videos on the papers’ websites.  As for the Inquirer, there is little doubt that editorial policy has uncritically bought into the arguments for the proposed consolidation of South Jersey universities.  Unlike the Courier or other papers in the state, it has refused even to meet with representatives of the Rutgers-Camden campus.

                The Rutgers boards could and should kill this proposal in its infancy at its meeting tomorrow.  Rejection of the terms of the legislation won’t prevent it from going forward, but it would vastly improve chances for amending the worst portions of the proposal, most notably the joint Rowan-Rutgers governing board.  If the boards fail and the legislation passes, garnering as it does the support of North Jersey as well as South Jersey Democrats, it undoubtedly will be challenged in court. If that happens, the Camden campus will continue to be compromised with this challenge to its integrity.  One can’t help but be reminded of another section of the Learning Alliance report as it urged its clients to move expeditiously towards the takeover on July 1, 2012:

                “We believe it will be possible to realize the Advisory Committee’s vision of having in place a major research university in South jersey even if the full integration of Rutgers-Camden is delayed. All that is required to start the process is the designation of Rowan as a public research university, the necessary reclassification of staff, and a substantial augment in the funds available to the New Rowan university to build the infrastructure a successful major research university will require.”   Section 21 of the proposed legislation establishes Rowan as a research university.  Presumably a research development fund intended to advance collaboration between faculties of the two institutions of the kind identified in the Learning Alliance report could follow.

                 As for the faculty at Rutgers-Camden, the Learning Alliance report is equally forthright: “If Rowan, Cooper University Hospital, and the State of New Jersey make clear their intention to establish a major research university in South Jersey, we believe that sooner or later the great majority of faculty at Rutgers Camden will ask to join.”  in other words, it’s death by a thousand cuts.  Rutgers the State University, its faculty, and current and potential students, who face skyrocketing costs for their education, deserve better. 

                  Throw out the Rowan-Rutgers governing board and maintain the integrity of the university as a whole. The alternative represents a blow that Rutgers may never recover from.

Comments

  • Howard,
    Thank you so much for your blog and your support as well as the general excellence you have brought to R-C for many years. Here is my attempt to assist, for your readers and you to see.

    Ms. Brennan, Please forward asap. Thank you, Donald K. Joseph

    Dear Fiduciaries for Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey,

    There are so many areas why the divestiture in any form of Rutgers Camden are wrong, but with time short, I urge only what I know best. I have spent an adult lifetime thinking about legal/moral issues first as a litigation partner connected for 40 years with one of the most well thought of Philadelphia law firms* and in the last 15, as a full time law professor, since 2000 teaching here in Camden and specializing in Professional Responsibility.

    Especially in that latter role, I urge you to consider what I know to be true – that while one may take on fiduciary duties through politics or friendship, once in the position of trust, one must place to one side, those relationships. Perhaps those people get your attention, but they may not effect your decisions. Those must be done, in this case, for the good of the university.

    On the merits, it is difficult to come-up with any reason to divest R-C from the state university. If one looked solely at divesting R-C, without the cloud of the other pieces to be moved on the board, one can only reach one conclusion: the University would be giving up with zero benefit a substantial asset – at least in excess of $100 million and, perhaps more importantly, the synergy that is a three campus, state wide university from Newark in the North to Camden in the South.

    But to agree with the past statement, one has to understand that the present legislative proposal is not, as the proponents would have us believe, a compromise. No, it is a rhino of a different animal kingdom; instead of a Republican in name only it is for R-C another similar animal; take your pick for naming it, :Rutgers In Name Only, RINO, RutgersINO, or RutINO. Whatever the name of the animal, it in no meaningful way remains a member of the Rutgers species; rather it will be an entity subject to the whim of the super BOG to be politically created, with all real power outside of Rutgers.* And to the main point, as fiduciaries of the larger institution, you will have given (thrown?) away an asset without any semblance of a return benefit..

    Only one possible argument exists for overcoming the breach of that fiduciary duty (the giving away an asset for no “business” or entity purpose). That superficial reason, viewing it as a trade or quid pro quo, does not stand any real analysis, not to emphasize the stringent one required of you. Rutgers loses south Jersey but it gains a medical school is superficially reasonable. Yet, that too is a mirage on the desert of NJ higher education’s status as the too near the bottom, 47th of the 50 states for funding higher education.

    In the game of hardball politics, bullies force down the throat of unsuspecting or fearful persons their overblown desires as intellectually sound. In reality often the bully is puffing smoke – or, in today’s lingo, smoking dope. The Governor and all others throughout the State want the Medical School in NB to go to Rutgers. Nothing need be given to obtain that asset; that is, unless the BOG/BOT caves to the pressure. If you reject the bad portion of a good deal, you will not just do your fiduciary duty, you will save the full state of New Jersey university. To do any thing less is totally unreasonable and a breach of your duties to the entire Rutgers entity and especially to the constituency from Camden which forms a part of that entirety. Such a decision subjects each and everyone of you to personal financial liability; worse you will have lost “the respect of intelligent people,” part of Emerson’s definition of Success; you will have failed to work toward the ultimate goal of most of us, to leave this world with a good reputation.

    Finally, how will I teach my students the meaning of the duty of loyalty, the duty of competence, the duty of honesty, and the duty enmeshed in all of them, whatever the profession, to do one’s job with internal integrity. If you can meet that standard and still vote in favor of the structure of the legislative proposal just two days ago put before us, then vote for the Governor. Vote for him, the South Jersey kingmaker and the sycophants that wish to save the financial needs of two institutions that have over-extended and seek a bailout; vote for the disingenuous reasons that are the smoke screen for the integrity to openly acknowledge the real problem: Cooper and Rowan and indeed the entire higher New Jersey education system need more money, not rearranging the chairs in south Jersey.

    Donald K. Joseph

    *No longer will the world see it as part of one of the oldest “Ivy League” universities in the country. Yes, the truth is that the further one gets from our state, the more prestige goes with the name. But if visibility were the only problem, the solution might seem to be a compromise. The real accuracy is that the proposed divestiture has already hurt badly R-C and especially, from my first hand knowledge of the facts, the Law School specifically. It will take years to build back the reputation and the financial stability, and we do not have that luxury.


    Donald K. Joseph | Visiting Associate Professor
    Rutgers School of Law – Camden
    donaldkjoseph@gmail.com | dojoseph@camden.rutgers.edu
    Cell: 215-570-5245

  • Well, it certainly was a well spent $30,000 by G. Norcross/Rowan/Cooper to get the hired gun from the University of Pennsylvania to tell them how to pull this off. Regarding the proposed legislation it is evidently cobbled together. It has no philosophical underpinning or symmetry. Totally not elegant. Obvious flaws are the Newark and Camden campuses should have identical structures for their new boards, and those new boards should report to the existing Rutgers Boards of Governors and Trustees for concurrence on major decisions. Also the notion that each campus board would set tuition and fees is synonymous with charging different fees for driver’s licenses, car registrations or state rates of income tax depending on where you live in New Jersey. What nonsense!

    My deceased father in law, who lived in an unheated house in Philadelphia with no water or utilities during the Great Depression, used to say, “Grab everything you can get your hands on and then ask ‘Is that all there is?’ Obviously George Norcross and John Sheridan share that philosophy. Rutgers is getting led to the slaughter.

    James Schwarzwalder
    Class of 1969
    College of South Jersey

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