McCormick joins 16 college presidents to object budget
University President Richard L. McCormick was one of 17 public college and university presidents who headed to Trenton yesterday to object to funding cuts and caps on tuition hikes.
In his opening remarks at a hearing in front of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in the state house annex, McCormick said the state's continual reduction in aid to higher education hinders the public colleges and universities, which contribute to the economy of the state.
"The results will be more of what we have seen in recent years, fewer courses for our students, lost opportunities to recruit faculty for our programs in areas where our economy has needs and more deferred maintenance for our many older facilities," McCormick said.
Gov. Chris Christie's proposed $173 million budget cut to higher education will maintain the trend, he said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, asked about a recent report concerning ongoing conversations between McCormick and New Jersey Institute of Technology President Robert Altenkirch about plans — proposed and shelved in 2003 — to divide the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey among the University, NJIT and Rowan University.
"The conversations in progress have been ongoing for eight years," McCormick said.
Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said she found the report alarming, as the conversations transpired with little input from the relevant communities.
"Any conversation moving forward should have everyone at the table to secure the benefit of the residents of the city of Newark," Ruiz said.
UMDNJ provides a vital service to the community and has a responsibility to the area, she said.
"If anything were ever to develop in terms of an action plan it would necessarily involve all the stakeholders and above all the state's elected officials," McCormick said.
Thomas Edison State College President George A. Pruitt expressed discontent with the proposed budget's merger of the College and the University. Pruitt commended the University but said the institutions have different missions that seem incompatible.
Unlike the University, the College concentrates on older, nontraditional students by utilizing online courses and distance learning and developed programs with each branch of the armed forces and the Department of Homeland Security, Pruitt said. Attendees in New Jersey and Afghanistan comprise the student body, he said.
"We're specialists in what we do, and we do it very well," he said. "They have a policy apparatus designed for the application of their message. We have a very different mission."
The University is reviewing the merger with due diligence, McCormick said.
But Pruitt made his opposition to the merger clear.
"We have already done our due diligence and reached our decision," he said.
Asked about Christie's 4 percent cap on tuition hikes, McCormick said the University does not favor caps and if caps are not imposed, the University will make sure a percent tuition increase does not climb into double digits.
In an interview prior to the hearing, Vice President for University Budgeting Nancy S. Winterbauer said a 9 percent increase would cover the $46.6 million cut but would not provide for $30 million in unfunded mandates and rising costs.
"It's never our intention to just plug that hole with tuition," she said.
In former Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposed fiscal year 2007 budget, the University faced a $99.8 million reduction in state aid. The state budget adopted in July 2006 restored $33.7 million.
McCormick said the $99.8 million number from 2007 included the state's nonfunding of a significant number of our fringe benefits.
"All of the new dollars required to fund the fringes which the state always does had been removed," he said. "That's the part that they restored."
It is unclear if the University will see some form of restoration when the state budget is adopted in July, Winterbauer said
"The times are very difficult. The governor has taken a hard stance," she said. "Your guess is as good as mine as to where it's going to go. We're hoping that there will be some kind of restoration."