Jon Lukacher | Staff Writer
Nearly three months into a report proposing the merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University to make a large research university, Rutgers-Camden remains a part of the Rutgers system. Chancellor Wendell Pritchett addressed the proposed merger in an e-mail sent to the entire campus community. He’s encouraged by the support of local political leaders as discussions continue.
“We’ve been having good discussions with theSouth Jerseyleaders, and they realize, like Don Norcross, that Rutgers-Camden is extremely important and should remain as Rutgers-Camden,” Pritchett said. “We’ve been moving forward in a positive direction. We haven’t made any final decisions, but we have had good discussions. There’s a lot of support for Rutgers-Camden.”
While there might be support for Rutgers-Camden, the merger is still being planned to occur by July 1, a deadline given by Governor Chris Christie. Pritchett said there’s a lot of work to accomplish before Rutgers-Camden would be absolved into Rowan. That work includes decisions in policy and finance. None of this work has been done.
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. Backed by Governor Christie, the report outlines the overhaul of the state’s university system, which involves a partnership between Rowan and 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.”
In March, Christie made national news when he called Rutgers-Camden law student, William Brown, an “idiot.” The story made the front page of the Huffington Post’s Politics section. Brown has denounced the merger and tried discussing it with the governor until he was forced out of the town hall meeting.
Forums have been held on the Camden campus, including a Board of Governors meeting, which saw Senate President Stephen Sweeney receiving boos and having words with some in attendance. Facebook groups have been created and a petition has been signed by over 13,000 people to stop the merger through change.org.
Rowan seems ready to undertake the merging effort. They have presented a plan, which included changing Rutgers-Camden to “Rowan-Camden,” reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Pritchett is not impressed by the plan.
“They have some ideas,” Pritchett, the holder of a Ph.D. in History, said. “I think that they are not very well developed, and so even if you were going to go forward with some kind of merger, there’s a lot of work that would have to be done. Just because you have documents, doesn’t mean they are real ideas. There’s a difference between a newspaper with some writing in it and a newspaper that’s thoughtful, that has a clear idea.”
Norcross’ ideas for tackling the topic of the proposed merger were discussed in a phone interview last week.
Norcross spoke about his op-ed piece, which appeared in the Gloucester County Times on April 15. In the piece titled “Give Rutgers-Camden, Rowan tools to thrive individually,” he outlined three points regarding Rutgers-Camden: it should remain in Camden, seek autonomy from the New Brunswick campus, and cultivate planned partnerships with Rowan University.
Norcross said that Rutgers-Camden was an integral part of the city ofCamdenand was most adamant about it achieving autonomy fromNew Brunswickmoving forward. He said that the 40-acre campus does not receive enough money from the main campus, depriving it from much needed resources.
“Rutgers spends more on its athletic program than it does on the entire Camden campus,” Norcross said about the campus giving small amounts of money to the smaller campus. “They’re keeping all the resources certainly up there, and of course, there are crumbs that fall off the side.”
The Assistant Majority Leader does not want to sever all ties with the main campus. He values the “tremendous” library system and the IT services. He sees a connection with theNew Brunswickadministration, concerning faculty issues like tenure and collective bargaining. That’s where the involvement ends.
“What we don’t need is the filter of New Brunswick taking 50 cents of every dollar, and that decision making process needs to take place here, locally,” Norcross explained.
In terms of forming a partnership, the local senator believes the time has never been better. He’s hoping a rail line will be built, connecting Glassboro andCamden.
Pritchett hopes for a more independent Rutgers-Camden as well, and believes Rutgers banners will still hang from lamp posts along the city campus in the fall.
He is hoping for more control over the branch, which started in 1926 as theSouthJerseyLawSchool. Rutgers-Camden does not have full control over the registrar, bursar, or the management of buildings and dorms. Rutgers University operated as a single campus until about a decade ago, when some control was relinquished. Pritchett wants more.
He likes the way theUniversityofCaliforniaschools operate their campuses. The California University system contains 10 campuses up and down the state.
“I would like to see the Rutgers system become more like the Cal system in the sense that each campus has its own ability to chart its own path, and that they can also grow,” Pritchett said.
Students like Bronwyn Haynes, a senior, are not surprised by the chancellor or senator’s ideas to make Rutgers-Camden more autonomous. While they see it as necessary to thrive, Haynes believes that theNorth Jerseycampus turned their back on Rutgers-Camden after the report came out. She said that then President Richard McCormick did not respond right away about keeping Rutgers-Camden.
Haynes is encouraged by Pritchett’s confidence that the campus will not change names. However, she thinks more work needs to be done by faculty and students in their fight against merger. If this is done, the Rutgers-Camden body won’t be “ignored.”
“This is a moment where we say, ‘Okay, he says that there’s hope. Let’s keep pushing,’” Haynes said, discussing Pritchett’s belief that Rutgers-Camden’s name will not change.
Rutgers-New Brunswick did not respond after being sent questions through email.