Merger affects all of U. community
Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed the Barer Commission’s proposal to sever Rutgers-Camden from the rest of the University and hand it over to Rowan University — the so-called “merger” proposal. I write not just to comment on that fact, but to say that from my vantage point as someone with appointments in both the Camden and New Brunswick campuses, I perceive a mismatch between the real threat to the proposal poses to the University and the reaction to that threat in the parts of the University that are not Rutgers-Camden.
On the one hand, faculty councils, the faculty Senate, certain departments, various student bodies and President Richard L. McCormick have expressed their clear opposition to this proposal. On the other hand, it seems to me that the proposal is not stirring up much passionate resistance among normal faculty and students on the New Brunswick campus — nothing like the mobilized opposition in Rutgers-Camden. My message here is that it ought to be stirring up such a resistance, because if this merger goes forward, it will be bad for what remains of the University as a whole.
There are two categories of harm that would befall the rest of the University if Rutgers-Camden were lost: direct and indirect. Direct harm would result from the loss of resources that Rutgers-Camden provides. These would include the loss of joint institutes such as the Institute for Law and Philosophy and the loss of reputation that would come from at least three things — losing the right to claim to be “the State University of New Jersey,” acquiescing to the loss of a campus as no major U.S. university has ever done before, and losing brand value, because, to quote the words of Julie Ruth, an associate professor in Rutgers-Camden’s School of Business, “Rutgers will be perceived as betraying members of its own family, an act that is unmistakably disloyal.”
It is, however, indirect losses that I fear would be truly severe in the long run.
By indirect losses, I mean those losses that would result from establishing a competing research university in southern New Jersey. The building and maintenance of such a university would consume a significant share of state resources. It would do so in many ways, including transition costs and the costly duplication of things like library services for two research universities. But in my view, the most significant cost would come from the fact that the new university would inevitably start creating competing doctoral programs. Those programs, especially in the hard sciences, are very expensive to mount and maintain. In a state that is financially strapped for cash, it makes sense to have one major research university — and one that distributes its doctoral programs across its campuses. It does not make sense to establish a competing research university duplicating many of the programs the state already has. The attempt to set up such a competing university will consume significant resources from the state’s higher education budget, and that means it will drain resources from the rest of the University.
It is worth adding that this should be a concern not only to the University community, but also to the citizens of New Jersey generally. As it is, our University is a world-class university. But subtract substantially from the support it gets, set up a competing research university in the state, and the state of New Jersey will end up with two mediocre research universities. One great public research university is of far more value to the state than two mediocre ones.
It is important for all at the University to recognize that, one way or another, more of the state’s higher education dollars will be headed south to Camden. The state is not about to let the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University fail, and it will take money to support it. In addition, South Jersey politicians will not be placated unless certain imbalances they perceive in state support for higher education are addressed. So the question is not whether the rest of the University will have to accept a smaller share of the state’s higher education resources. The question is how much smaller its share will have to be. Given that roughly 30 percent of the University’s budget comes from the state, it is crucial for the future flourishing of the University that the loss be as small as possible.
I close now with two points about the politics. First, the politicians who support this plan are still pushing hard to make this merger happen. This is true despite a recent poll indicating that more than twice as many citizens of the state oppose the proposal as support it. But if they realized the University was united in resisting the proposal, they might be more willing to back down and work with the University to pursue more constructive alternatives.
Second, returning to the theme with which I began, the University community outside of Camden must not respond as if this threat concerns some other place. The threat is equally real to all of us. So I ask those of you who do not attend Rutgers-Camden to take very seriously that this proposal is bad for your University, too. Don’t sit passively by. Ask everyone you can to write their state senators, their assembly representative and the governor. Organize campus protests like the ones you’ve read about on the Camden campus. This is not just an attack on Rutgers-Camden. This is an attack on us all. But we can stop this thing if we come together as a community to do so.
Alec Walen is an associate professor in the Rutgers-Camden School of Law.