Jon Lukacher | Staff Writer
Last Wednesday, students and faculty rallied and met with the Board of Governors to denounce the merger of Rutgers-Camden intoRowanUniversity.
“We don’t want to let this merger to get through,” Tim Hearn, Mathematics major, said outside while a Twisted Sister song played in the background. “We’re paying to come to Rutgers-Camden. We chose Rutgers-Camden for a reason. We’re not Rowan. We need to send that message to the Board of Governors. We need to make it loud and clear.”
Hearn’s words came during the rally before the annual Board of Governors meeting held at the Gordon Theater at 1:30 p.m. The rally was held by members of the student body outside the Paul Robeson Library in the Quad during the free period. The theme of the mixture of events that afternoon was clear: members of the Rutgers-Camden community stood in opposition of the merger between Rutgers-Camden andRowanUniversity.
After about forty minutes into the board meeting, members of the audience were allowed to speak to the board. Rutgers-Camden SGA President Jenna Cantarella denounced the potential merger, as she has since it was made public. Dressed in a business suit, Cantarella read from a prepared statement.
“As the Board of Governors it is your responsibility to defend the interests ofRutgers, The State University of New Jersey,” Cantarella said. “When and if you are charged with voting on whether or not our campus will remain a part ofRutgers, I ask you to remember the statements you hear today. I ask you to remember the great things that have come from this campus.”
Not everyone opposed the merger at both events. The pro-merger groups chuckled and laughed together on the near wall of the theater.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney spoke at the microphone, which divided the lower and upper half of the theatre. Throughout his speech, he was booed and heckled by the audience. One heckler said he wouldn’t vote for him, which Sweeney said he was not worried about.
Sweeney gave his unbridled approval to the merger, aligning himself with Governor Chris Christie. The senator said thatSouth Jerseywas economically weak compared to the rest of the state. He noted how much the people would benefit from the merger, a topic he said had been discussed in the legislature for ten years.
“I have to congratulate the Governor for trying to do something with higher education and take us (New Jersey) to the next level,” Sweeney said. “It would be horrible to kill an idea (merger) if you don’t know what it is.”
Another senator came right after Sweeney: Donald Norcross.
While he did receive some boos, Norcross’ message was not met with as much animosity as Sweeney’s. He mentioned the importance of keeping the Rutgers-Camden brand, which was supported by the audience.
Norcross gave homage toCamden, noting his residency there. He echoed Sweeney’s claim of an “economic disparity,” concerning resources between both halves of the state. He said it was “sickening,” which received a moderate amount of applause.
He cited concerning statistics.
“Here at this great institution (Rutgers-Camden), we only get 55 cents on every dollar that goes north toNew Brunswick. That is wrong.”
The meeting discussed several topics, involving all threeRutgerscampuses before the 40 signed up audience members were able to speak. Members of the board, who can decide the fate of the merger, noted the proposed idea several times. President Richard McCormick gave a statement. Some members of the board spoke as well. They discussed the budget, awards like Dr. Jacob Soll’s MacArthur Fellowship, and construction at theNewarkcampus.
Many people spoke at the rally outside as construction of the multi-floored graduate school building sat about one block south. The overcast afternoon rally, which had people wearing hooded sweatshirts and gloves, had professors in the Psychology department like Sean Duffy in attendance. Dr. Soll spoke, and so did Michael Chewkanes, a 1976 Rutgers-Camden graduate.
Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) president Matt Cordeiro voiced his opinion and received applause. He and others from theNew Brunswickcampus came down to show their opposition of the merger.
An estimated 300 people came to the rally with a microphone set up outside the doors of the Paul Robeson Library, facing the gathering. Signs placed around the Quad read “Keep Rutgers in South Jersey.” Signs adorned the glass of doors onCooper St., education buildings on campus, and in the hallway of the campus center. They either denounced the merger or encouraged students to come to the rally.
Chancellor Wendell Pritchett sat on stage with President McCormick inside the theatre. He expressed his ongoing opposition of the merger and the accomplishments of Rutgers-Camden faculty. Samuel Rabinowitz, Rutgers-Camden faculty representative to the Board of Governors, sat on stage with Pritchett. He called the merger recommendations in the committee report “ill-advised.” Rabinowitz’s statement received a thunderous applause from the audience.
The release of a UMDNJ Advisory Committee report on January 25 spurred many questions and strong emotions from the Rutgers-Camden community. Newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Courier-Post covered the proposed merger with front page articles, including Wednesday’s events.
Backed by Governor Christie, the report outlines the overhaul of the state’s university system. The overhaul involves a partnership withRowanUniversityand Rutgers-Camden.
“The Committee’s view is that a full integration of Rutgers-Camden intoRowanUniversityshould be undertaken,” the report said. “This integration should include the law school and business school atRutgersUniversityinCamden.”
Facebook groups have been created and a petition has been signed by over 8,000 people to stop the merger. Another rally will happen this Friday, February 17. Further details have not been released.
Students seemed destined to fight and protest for their Rutgers-Camden no matter what. Students like Hearn will not stop fighting. For Hearn, it has a greater purpose than himself.
“This is really important,” Hearn expressed. “This is something that is going to affect every single Rutgers-Camden student. It’s going to affect the people that come here next. I have a younger sibling who might be coming here in a couple of years. I want her to be able to go toRutgers, not Rowan.”