Rutgers-Newark, Rutgers-Camden law schools to merge
For the past three years, Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden have been cooperating on numerous fronts and now plan to merge law schools.
Faculty voted on a resolution in January supporting the joining of the two law schools, said Rayman Solomon, dean of Rutgers School of Law-Camden.
Now that the Board of Governors and University President Robert L. Barchi has given both schools an informal nod of approval, the faculty committee will move ahead with merger plans, said Ronald Chen, vice dean of Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
“What we got was in essence a green light to go ahead and plan,” he said.
The University wanted to shut down its Camden campus in the 1940s because the campus was not growing, Solomon said. But instead of closing the campus, the University decided to split its law school in 1968 to give the campus room to grow.
“We split off in order to create an equal law school in South Jersey,” Solomon said.
The merger has the potential to place the University on level with the best, and the best-funded, public law schools in the Big Ten and across the country, said John Farmer Jr., dean of Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
Farmer said another reason the schools separated was administrative difficulties operating a law school across two campuses.
Technology has since bridged the gap between them, he said, making it possible for law firms to be administered globally.
“[We could] administer the law school in Newark and Camden, while expanding curricular choices and faculty scholarship,” Farmer said.
He said current merger discussions began because officials from both law schools realized the benefits of merging the two schools outweighed the original decisions to split.
“Having two competing state law schools within Rutgers is self-defeating,” he said.
The joint faculty committee has been looking at the potential merger for more than a year, Chen said.
Farmer said the two law schools formed the Institute for Professional Education to offer statewide legal education under the University’s law brand and worked together on juvenile justice and congressional redistricting issues.
“The success of these efforts led both schools to see the value of cooperating across many
fronts, and perhaps ultimately combining into a single state law school,” he said.
Solomon said the law schools began discussing the merger two years ago in a conversation between the deans. One year ago, the deans talked to then-University President Richard L. McCormick and began a faculty committee to push the plans forward.
The two schools were drafting a proposal outline when the governor announced a proposed merger between the Camden campus and Rowan College, he said, but Gov. Chris Christie’s plan was rejected.
Solomon said by that time, the two schools had already progressed far enough with faculty to know there was interest in a merger.
Chen said the schools must first approach the American Bar Association, which accredits all law schools in the United States, to be reaccredited as one school.
“In this situation, no one really knows [how to proceed with the accreditation process], including the ABA, because no one’s tried this before,” Chen said.
Chen said most merging law schools involve a takeover, but the University’s situation is unique because it is a single institution with two law schools.
The University’s Board of Governors has not made an official announcement yet, Chen said. However, the board did approve of the merger because it would benefit the University as a whole.
The faculty committee is looking into merging the schools’ curricula and working out merger logistics, Solomon said, similar to what is being done with the University’s integration with University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Solomon said the two law schools’ programs are similar, but each has different graduation requirements. Some equivalent classes are worth different numbers of credits depending on the school.
“The goal is to have one law school with two campuses,” he said. “We want students to [be able to] move back and forth between campuses.”
A merged law school would provide better academic quality and experience, he said.
Additionally, legal services offered by Newark and Camden law schools would be unified to offer broader services to a larger client base, he said.
Chen said a uniformly branded law school would deliver better legal education to University students and help keep the school accessible and affordable in the future.
Solomon said though there is an undergraduate legal studies degree on the New Brunswick campus, both graduate law schools are embedded in their communities and will not be cutting back faculty or moving locations.
They both have strong ties to either the Philadelphia or New York City metropolitan areas, Chen said.
“Our location is part of what defines the legal education we give our students, and I’m sure Camden feels the same way,” Chen said.
The merger also allows the University’s law school to become a larger presence in New Brunswick, offering a minor in legal studies, continuing education and clinical programs, Farmer said.
“We hope that, by making the law school unification a strategic priority of the University, we will become a paradigm of what a powerhouse Rutgers University can be,” Farmer said.