Yesterday the National Academies in Washington released a report addressing the crisis in higher education in the United States.  Focusing on the vital assets of colleges and especially public research universities in the states to the nation’s wellbeing, it calls for significant reinvestment in these institutions at the state and federal levels, together with a concerted effort to constrain costs in an effort to keep them affordable and accessible.

                It is not without irony that despite the high minded rhetoric surrounding the effort to reorganize higher education in New Jersey, the legislation introduced last week, without spelling out costs and without bringing any new resources to the assistance of higher education, sailed through committee yesterday without amendment or re-evaluation.  Rather than beginning to restore cuts made to higher education over the past decade, as the Academies report urges, it actually raises costs by passing on more than $600 million in debt to Rutgers from the troubled UMDNJ system and diminishes the university’s assets further by placing the entire Camden campus under the direction of an independently  appointed board of governors, which would also oversee Rowan University.

                The news from the National Academies was not unfamiliar to New Jersey policymakers.  The Kean Task Force’s primary recommendation was to direct new resources to Rutgers.  Instead, the current bill carves up Rutgers, while hardly giving Rowan the boost it needs in terms of real resources to be nationally competitive.

                Earlier in the week Rutgers-Newark law professor Peter Simmons penned a highly reasonable call for putting on hold the current rush to reorganize higher ed in favor of a considered planning process that has some chance of getting the right structure and the resources that should go with it.   It’s probably too late for that.  The strategy of proponents for forcing through these radical changes has always been to get the structure in place before worrying about details.  In that light, John Wall’s biting commentary in today’s Inquirer  has it right. This is not a high-minded challenge to invest in the future of higher education. To use Wall’s words, it’s “political pillaging.”