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EDITORIAL: RWJ’s expansion comes with stipulations

Hospital's new cancer institute should be coupled with school funding

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is in the market for vaccines, research and, apparently, one of the most critical aspects of the medical field — elementary schools.

“The RWJUH, which is part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, is looking to potentially build the new Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey on the land currently occupied by the Lincoln Annex School, a facility of approximately 750 students in the New Brunswick Public School District,” according to The Daily Targum back in October 2019.

The issue has grown in prominence over recent weeks, with several faculty members condemning the project. The Rutgers University Student Assembly also expressed disdain for the hospital's plans via legislation. 

Todd Wolfson, president of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) and associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, opposed the project — at least in its current form — due to the psychological impact that changing schools has on children.

“‘When students are moved, it tends to have a big impact on them emotionally, it has an impact on their grades … We believe the right thing for these three very wealthy organizations to do is to make sure they are in a very good school before breaking ground and building the new cancer pavilion,” Wolfson said, according to the Targum.

RWJUH should not be allowed to fully exercise its desires on this matter, but condemning it without offering alternatives or stipulations is entirely unconstructive. Wolfson went on to recommend that RWJUH contributes to the construction of a new school for the potentially displaced students.

Considering the wealth of RWJUH, and its evidently high motivation to pursue a new cancer institute (wealthy organization or not, that is a noble cause), there is no reason that this situation cannot be mutually beneficial for all involved. 

But, RWJUH should not have begun this project or pursuit without assuring that it was not going to cause damage to the New Brunswick community. By diving headfirst into this, it proved that it is completely negligent toward the city it benefits so much from, and that its planning is concerningly shortsighted.

Additionally, the New Brunswick Board of Education has a dire responsibility to be more responsive to the members of the public who are inquiring about the project, rather than shutting them out, according to the Targum. Editor of New Brunswick Today and former mayoral candidate Charlie Kravotil went into detail about the Board of Education’s attempts to silence opposition.

To remedy this, they must commit to aiding the construction of the school that replaces Lincoln Annex School. RWJUH would not be pursuing a project with such a high potential for negative public relations unless it realized it was highly profitable. 

Considering that, RWJUH should be eager to incur the additional expenses in order to expand its enterprise through the elementary school, and New Brunswick should be aware that RWJUH will likely be highly motivated to push this project through, even if it means it has to fund a significant portion of the replacement school. 

RWJUH increased its net assets by a whopping $468,598,000 from 2018-2019 alone, according to RWJBarnabas Health‘s own balance sheet. RWJBarnabas Health is not RWJUH, but rather RWJUH is a branch of the larger healthcare giant, meaning that RWJUH does not quite have that full budget to toy with. Still, RWJUH is not digging through its pockets for spare change — it has plenty of money. 

It costs New Brunswick $22 million to open up and renovate the Lincoln Annex Elementary School, according to the article. Presuming that whatever new school is opened in its place does not exceed $30 million in billings, there is no reason that RWJUH should not opt to help New Brunswick fund that project. 

One must consider that giant corporations are also subject to taxes, including their employees. RWJUH already presumably funds a decent portion of New Brunswick’s budget, and it is doing it by researching cancer treatments and providing healthcare. 

The point made about children moving schools is important, but there are ways that those impacts can be mediated. By constructing or renovating the replacement school over the summer, students will be less psychologically damaged by the move, and building it nearby Lincoln Annex School would help families jump back into the school year with minimal upheaval. 

Ensuring that the new school is fully furnished with quality educational facilities — which should be no problem considering RWJUH and New Brunswick’s budget — will also help aid the transition, and perhaps even be beneficial in the long run if improvements are made. 

It is concerning that this even has to be written. RWJUH should have exercised consideration prior to committing to this, and it should not be the responsibility of concerned parents and college students to hold them accountable. 

Rutgers students have a responsibility to be aware of the events that are happening to the New Brunswick community, especially considering that they benefit off of the city’s perception and wellbeing. A step forward would be to put pressure on New Brunswick and RWJUH to adequately fund a new school, should they go through with this plan.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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