Rutgers University Senate

Initial Response to the Report of the
New Jersey Commission on Health Science, Education, and Training

November 6, 2002

The Rutgers University Senate, representing students, alumni, faculty, and other members of the Rutgers community, applauds Governor McGreevey and the New Jersey Commission on Health Science, Education and Training for their vision to advance New Jersey public research universities into the top tier of state-university systems.  We recognize the great potential benefits of a carefully implemented merger of the three research universities, provided that:

This response to the Commission's report outlines the areas of concern in the report, and proposes a modified review and implementation process for the proposal.  We believe this constructive response identifies critical issues that will be important in realizing our shared vision for excellence for higher education in New Jersey.


As the Commission acknowledges, there was not enough time for a thorough assessment of the impact of the proposed restructuring on the teaching, research and service missions in areas not related to health sciences.  That impact needs to be assessed to ensure that any proposed restructuring builds on current strengths, and does not adversely impact areas of traditional strength and reputation, such as undergraduate education or Rutgers’ nationally recognized departments in the arts and humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, agricultural sciences, and its professional schools.  The proposed merger has the potential to strengthen existing graduate and professional schools significantly.  However, there are serious concerns that too much focus on health education might lead to a redirection of resources, weakening areas of academic strength, and negatively affecting undergraduate education.  Separating the university into independent institutions could exacerbate such negative impacts, since it would be more difficult to achieve the appropriate balance in three separate institutions.

In addition, we are concerned that there has been no assessment of how the proposed restructuring would impact Rutgers programs and interactions across campuses.  There are a number of Rutgers academic units and programs that currently operate on more than one campus, including the College of Nursing, the School of Social Work, and the Business School, Newark and New Brunswick.  Further, there are many more collaborations between faculty and programs on different campuses than was realized by the Commission.  For example, the Bloustein School and Camden Law School offer a joint degree program and many Camden faculty members are active members of New Brunswick graduate programs.  Under the proposed restructuring such collaborations will face the same administrative problems currently faced by joint Rutgers-UMDNJ health sciences programs, which is one of the major justifications for the proposed merger.

Finally we are concerned about the fact that the Commission’s report makes no reference whatsoever to the land-grant status of Rutgers or to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) or the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Program (RCE) and their direct institutional connections to Cook College.  Any restructuring of higher education in New Jersey must preserve and enhance the land-grant mission of Rutgers and the statewide research and outreach programs of Cook, NJAES and RCE.

Another critical area of concern involves funding.  We wholeheartedly agree with the Commission’s assertion that  “excellence in higher education begins with adequate funding” and its acknowledgment that “state support for Rutgers is at the low end of state universities, lags the Higher Education Price Index, and is a decreasing share of the state budget.”  Like the Commission, we also note that states with public universities considered to be models of excellence typically spend double or triple on a per-student basis than does New Jersey.  Moreover, we emphasize that Rutgers’ current level of excellence has been achieved despite years of operational underfunding and infrastructure neglect, which have produced needs that have now accumulated to a crisis level.  These needs, which will be compounded by a projected 22% increase in demand for undergraduate education within the next six years, must be addressed as part of any plan to achieve the next level of excellence.

Merger of the three research universities will incur additional costs.  Separation into three new institutions will incur much larger additional costs, including:

Neither the implementation of a merger, nor that of a separation, should be initiated without first identifying the source of funding by the state legislature.  In addition to one-time costs, achieving the next level of excellence requires an ongoing commitment by the state to provide consistent, predictable and adequate funding.  The state is currently in a difficult financial situation, and taxpayers might not support large additional expenditures to implement such a plan.


Even if the funds were available, there would still be additional concerns.  Although the Commission discusses advantages of merging Rutgers, UMDNJ, and, to a lesser extent, NJIT, and of splitting UMDNJ, the Commission's report includes no documented justification for a three-way split of Rutgers. Indeed, in particular, separating Camden from New Brunswick may be ill advised, since that would leave Camden as a small, isolated unit without doctoral programs or adequate academic infrastructure (e.g., library and networking support), while New Brunswick would be left with no institutional link to either a Law School or a Business School.  There may be good arguments for a two-way split between New Brunswick/Camden and Newark, but further assessment is needed.  In any case, we support the legitimate aspirations of any campus to be an independent university if and when adequate resources are available.  Whether or not separation is carried out, we believe there should be increased campus autonomy.

Given these doubts and concerns, we support a staged procedure where the review and implementation phase proposed by the report is split into distinct stages:

Regardless of the final structure adopted, the name of Rutgers must be preserved.  For historical reasons, reputation, name recognition, and the fact that there are 320,000 Rutgers alumni, the majority of whom live in New Jersey, this appears to be the only realistic option.

The merged system should preserve the level of autonomy Rutgers University currently has with regards to, among others, control of its funding and assets.  This could be achieved by retaining the current Rutgers governance structure, appropriately modified to ensure representation from all constituent institutions.  Moreover, in terms of the future governance structure, any new statewide body, such as a Board of Regents, should consist predominantly of recognized educators and leaders in research.  Furthermore, these Regents should not all be political appointees but should rather be chosen through a process similar to the one currently used for appointment of Trustees and Governors at Rutgers.

Finally, another important issue that should be addressed is the post-merger status of University Hospital in Newark, which is now owned by UMDNJ.  University Hospital serves an important social role in the Newark community, and we feel strongly that its funding must be directly ensured by the state legislature as a clear statutory obligation.


Regardless of which restructuring plan is finally adopted, it is crucial that, in addition to deans and other administrators, Rutgers faculty, students, and alumni are involved from the beginning and in every stage of review and implementation.  In particular, faculty, students and alumni are eager to participate in, and should be appointed to, all the appropriate Issue Working Groups.  They should also be appointed to the University Committees for the various campuses, the Community Advisory and Academic Advisory Groups, as well as any committees created for actions across the system.  We ask for a definitive commitment that this be done now.  In addition, we strongly urge that the role of the Rutgers University Senate, which is the only University-wide shared governance body at Rutgers, be preserved and expanded in the restructured research university or universities.

This constitutes the initial response of the University Senate composed to address the urgent need for feedback to the Commission's report.  A commitment to the magnitude and scope of the Commission's proposal requires intense study and a thorough evaluation.  Our study of the proposal will continue, and we expect to expand and/or amend this response as further information becomes available, as the sentiment of individual units and campuses solidifies, and once we have had the chance for additional, wider deliberation.