GLASSBORO, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers University students, faculty and administrators continued to rally for the survival of the Camden campus, urging lawmakers at a public hearing Monday to reject Gov. Chris Christie's plan for a takeover by Rowan University.
Lawmakers hearing testimony on the proposal to reorganize New Jersey's higher education system aren't sure the merger plan requires their approval.
Christie want to merge parts of Rutgers and Rowan and for parts of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to be turned over to Rutgers. A key legal question surrounding Christie's plan is who has to approve it. Christie would like to accomplish the reorganization by executive order, but members of the Legislature want a vote.
South Jersey Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said the issue of legal authority hasn't been settled. But, Timothy Scott Farrow, a lawyer who is treasurer of the Rutgers Alumni Association, testified that the law clearly requires legislative approval.
"We're saying the power is in the hands of the Legislature and we're asking you to use it," he said.
Rowan would take over the Camden campus of Rutgers University, including its law school, under the plan. Rutgers would absorb parts of the scandal-tainted UMDNJ, gaining a medical school. The remaining parts of UMDNJ would be renamed.
The daylong hearing at Rowan in Glassboro provided the second opportunity for public comment since Christie adopted the recommendation of a higher education panel he convened and proposed the realignment. Many at Rutgers-Camden oppose the plan, fearing a loss of identity — and possibly accreditation — especially for the well-regarded law school.
Testimony from top administrators at the two schools offered glimpses of their respective views.
Rowan University Board of Trustees Chairman James Gruccio said the south Jersey college embraces the proposal as "the right thing for public higher education in New Jersey," even though it didn't conceive of the merger or push for it.
Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett said he's firmly opposed. He suggested that the schools look to increase research collaborations at a fraction of the cost of forging ahead with a merger no one at Rutgers-Camden wants.
When Pritchett was asked what percentage of students and faculty support the plan, several members of the audience shouted "zero" before he could answer.
Pritchett then offered this: "It's extremely rare that people in academia agree on anything. Every single person I have interacted with — students, faculty, staff, alums — everyone opposes this merger."
Christie has been adamant that the merger will happen because it presents opportunities for academic and economic growth for South Jersey. Senate President Steve Sweeney of South Jersey, who testified, is also supportive. He said the proposal will strengthen the ability of South Jersey to attract high-paying jobs and new technology-based businesses.
Thousands of Rutgers-Camden students and alumni have signed a petition to stop the merger. Faculty members from various disciplines criticized the lack of detail in the merger plan, complained it had no cost analysis and said it did not take Rutgers-Camden's reputation into account. Several predicted a merger would cause a mass-exodus of Rutgers-Camden faculty.
Christie tangled with one student detractor at a recent town hall event, engaging in a heated verbal exchange that ended with the governor calling the opponent, second-year law student William Brown, an idiot.
Toward the end of the hearing, lawmakers heard from Brown's father, a 58-year-old Philadelphia resident who received an accounting degree from Rutgers-Camden in 1981.
"My son is a trained Navy SEAL," the elder Brown said. "When he sees someone forcing a point without justification, he speaks out."
Brown, like many others in the room, was wearing a "Save Rutgers-Camden button."