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Are Changes on the Horizon for Controversial University Merger?

Rutgers University officials said Monday a new framework is in place for the university to keep its campus in Camden rather than see it folded into another state university under a plan backed by Gov. Chris Christie.

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Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett said in a statement Monday that the plan would give his campus more administrative and budgetary autonomy from Rutgers’ main campus in New Brunswick. The school also would “engage in a deep and meaningful partnership with Rowan University,” Pritchett said.

The plan, which was first reported by The Star-Ledger of Newark, is an alternative to one to merge Rutgers’ Camden campus into Rowan as part of a broader reorganization of higher education institutions in the state. Christie, a Republican, has said he wants the changes to take effect by July 1 though it’s certain that implementing the details would take well beyond then, possibly several years.

Rutgers-Camden students, faculty and alumni mostly oppose the merger, as does Rutgers’ Board of Trustees. They object to losing  the respected Rutgers identity and say there would be problems in combining a campus of a research university with a state university that’s primarily a teaching university.

Christie has not signed off on the alternative plan, which is being hashed out by a group of lawmakers and higher education officials. Rutgers Vice President of Public Affairs Peter McDonough said that the new concept isn’t in writing.

It’s unclear how likely the proposal is to be implemented. Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said the university, based in Glassboro, had not been apprised of the plan, though he said Rowan officials are glad state leaders are discussing how to expand higher education opportunities in southern New Jersey.

Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, who is pushing to create a research university in southern New Jersey, told The Associated Press on Monday night that no agreement is in place.

Christie and Norcross were due in Camden on Tuesday for the groundbreaking at a new cancer institute at the city’s Cooper University Hospital, where Norcross is the chairman of the board.

Cooper figures prominently in any changes to higher education in New Jersey because the hospital and Rowan are opening a new medical school later this year.

But Norcross said there was nothing on Tuesday’s agenda other than the groundbreaking.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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