Higher Ed Restructuring Approved, Sent to Governor [AUDIO]
Adhering to Governor Chris Christie's schedule, both houses of the state legislature advanced a measure that would reshape New Jersey's higher education system. Christie, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, hailed the proposal as a great step for education and economic development in the Garden State.
Following weeks of debate and negotiations, the plan was experiencing amendments into late Thursday. Plus, despite accolades from Christie and leading Democrats, the higher education reorganization can be scrapped at any time by the governing body of Rutgers.
The New Jersey Medical and and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act would have Rutgers University take over the majority of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Rowan University would take on UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine and share a board of directors for health-sciences with the Rutgers-Camden campus.
The plan reflected a resolution adopted earlier Thursday by the Rutgers Board of Governors, which can approve or disapprove of any merger. The board expressed its support for a merger with UMDNJ, but it wanted to maintain control of its Camden campus. Also, the resolution indicated that the legislation would be thoroughly reviewed to determine how it could affect Rutgers' finances. The Rutgers Board of Trustees has not yet shared its opinion on the most recent developments.
Rutgers would take on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt with the absorption of UMDNJ, but on Thursday night's Ask the Governor program, Christie said the move would offer Rutgers nearly $2 billion in assets.
"Any business would take that deal," Christie said.
No solid price tag has been revealed for the ever-changing proposal, a cause for concern among opponents of the higher ed restructuring.
"I cannot believe that this body is following the blank check policy of the people I was testifying before in Trenton this week," said Adam Scales, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden, to the Board of Governors.
Opponents also said the process has been rushed since the start. The legislation would not take effect until July 1 of next year.
Christie, and other proponents of the massive change, said New Jersey's reputation would be restored as a leader in life sciences research.
"After much collaboration with all stakeholders and some heated debate, I believe the bill to restructure higher education in New Jersey is a solid final product that will dramatically improve the academic standing and competitiveness of our state colleges and universities," said state Senator Dawn Addiego (R).
Democratic Assemblyman Vincent Prieto said, “This represents substantial progress toward a plan that gives all our students world-class higher educational opportunities - regardless of region, county or ZIP code."
Also approved by both houses was a bill sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) that would authorize, pursuant to voter approval, the issuance of state bonds totaling at least $750 million. The bonds would provide grants to New Jersey’s public and private institutions of higher education for capital improvement projects.
The bonds, which would be up for voter approval this November, would be for projects such as: classrooms, laboratories, libraries, computer facilities, and other academic buildings. Dormitories, administrative buildings, athletic facilities or other revenue-producing facilities would not be eligible projects under the bill.
Governor Christie shared his excitement about this measure as well.
"There hasn't been a capital investment in our higher education institutions in this state since 1988," said Christie.