University vows to challenge any changes to governance structure
The University Board of Trustees is under fire again, this time from state Senator Steve Sweeney. He has proposed a bill that would eliminate the Board of Trustees and transfer its powers to the Board of Governors.
If passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie, bill S2902 would end the nearly 250-year-old Board of Trustees.
“The problem is you have two boards that at times are not in sync with each other, that at times don’t work with each other. Because it’s been there all that time, and this is how we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s always right,” Sweeney said. “It’s 2013. It’s time to move on.”
E.J. Miranda, director of University Media Relations, said officials would fight any changes to the university’s governance structure. Rutgers alumni have also stood behind the university and sent about 24,000 emails to the state Legislature on the subject.
Some board members question whether or not the bill is even legal. Joseph Cashin, student representative to the Board of Governors, said the Rutgers Act of 1956 has granted the university autonomy, effectively allowing self-governance.
Along with the university’s boards, students were also upset over the news of the bill Cashin said.
“What is the real motive from Sweeney and the governor? Do they believe it is a good idea?” he said. “It’s difficult to believe motives after the situations with Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and Coach Mike Rice. There was also the idea of getting the medical school, and when we may have had to give up Rutgers Camden.”
Cashin, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the Student Government is working with the state relations office to give members of the University community a chance to voice their disapproval of the bill.
“The state relations office has set up a system online. You type in your zip code and you can send an automated letter to assemblymen and women, or you can type in a specific name,” he said. “So far it has been well received by students, and it is being put out on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness.”
According to a statement from Greg Trevor, senior director of Media Relations, the unique history of the University has shaped its current governance structure. From the University’s founding in 1766 as Queens College, until it was reorganized as the State University of New Jersey in 1956, the University was governed by a Board of Trustees.
Under the 1956 contract, the University’s Board of Governors is the primary governing body, while the Board of Trustees remained in both advisory capacity and with certain fiduciary responsibilities on all University campuses.
“The contract also stipulates that Rutgers University “shall be and continue to be given a high degree of self-government … free of partisanship,” the statement said. “In a 1972 opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that this contract established Rutgers as ‘an autonomous public university.’”
Under the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act, which became effective July 1, 2013, the Board of Governors expands from 11 to 15 members. Eight will be appointed by the New Jersey governor and seven selected by the Rutgers Board of Trustees. The Board of Governors also determines policies for the organization, administration and development of the University.
The statement said the University Board of Trustees is one of the oldest governing bodies in higher education in the nation. This board predates the founding of the United States and the state of New Jersey.
The Board of Trustees has 59 voting members. Under the 1956 contract, the Board of Trustees’ authority and responsibilities include acting in an overall advisory capacity to the Board of Governors and the University administration, appointment of five trustees to the Board of Governors and membership on Board of Governors committees.
“Also under the 1956 contract, the state of New Jersey cannot amend, alter in any substantial respect or repeal “the provisions for the essential self-government of the university” without the consent of the Board of Trustees,” the statement said.
According to an article posted on NJ.com, Sweeney said the bill is not an effort to get back at the trustees for threatening to derail a merger between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University, which he supported.
“I’m not that vindictive, believe me,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said a single governing board would help hold the Rutgers president accountable.
“Once you only have one board to deal with, there’s no excuses,” Sweeney said. “This dual board doesn’t make any sense at all. And when you look around the country, most universities are not governed this way.”