There is a proposal afoot in New Jersey to merge Rowan University and Rutgers University's Camden campus and to rename the merged institution as entirely Rowan University.
I think this is a terrible idea and would love to discuss my reasons with anyone willing to listen. The following is a list of talking points with which I wholeheartedly agree.
1. The plan robs South Jersey of the benefits of a university with a world-class reputation. South Jersey residents have been paying taxes and tuition for centuries to build Rutgers into a world-renowned university. If this plan goes into effect, South Jersey residents will instantaneously lose all of their accrued principal in The State University of New Jersey. That is fundamentally unfair.
2. It will take decades or centuries for an unknown regional university to attain anything like the status of Rutgers. This is one more example of South Jersey being treated as a second-class region of the state. Central and North Jersey will continue to be served by world-class Rutgers, and South Jersey has to settle for an institution unknown beyond South Jersey.
3. Rutgers–Camden has top-flight faculty because we are Rutgers. We can recruit people at the very top of the field, who bring their expertise to the South Jersey region. Jacob Soll’s Macarthur is a recent example. Rowan cannot do that and will not be able to the same for the foreseeable future.
4. Economically successful regions are driven by the presence of several strong diverse institutions of higher education. The Bay Area in California draws from the research outputs of Stanford, multiple campuses of the UC system, multiple campuses of the Cal State system, and many private universities. The Research Triangle is driven by three research universities. Boston and its 128 corridor are driven by the presence of innumerable colleges and universities. Yes, helping Rowan grow and improve will bring benefits to the region. But South Jersey needs more higher education activity, not less. Folding a campus of a great research university into a minor regional university is a net loss for the region.
5. The commission began with a charge to study medical education, and they never really got past that frame. The whole analysis is driven by the fact that Rowan is connected to the Cooper Medical School. The Cooper Medical School is not even offering classes yet, so the significance of that relationship is far less than the significance of the relationships of all of the Rutgers-Camden programs to Rutgers. If we are to reorganize higher education so drastically, it should be driven by a study that looks holistically at higher education, not as an afterthought to an analysis of medical education—which is important, but isn’t the only important issue.
6. The commission was studying higher ed and medical education. It contained two lawyers, no physicians, and just one former higher education official. These are honorable and respected citizens, but we should not make such a drastic change without having the right mix of knowledge and experience in the room. We need proposals based on the right mix of expertise, and we need careful deliberation that includes the residents of New Jersey and our elected representatives.
7. The recommended path represents the worst kind of government over-reach—just the sort of thing Chris Christie has built his reputation opposing. Rutgers and Rowan have been growing successfully despite dwindling state support and a bad economy. Rutgers continues to cement its strength as a world-class university, and Rowan has become a successful regional university. The recommended reorganization puts all of that at risk because five people behind closed doors think it’s a good idea.
8. Rutgers-Camden is helping make the right kind of revitalization happen in Camden—the slow, steady growth of jobs and an increase in education levels in the city. Folding Rutgers-Camden into Rowan will shift the focus away from the necessary revitalization of South Jersey’s urban center.