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Newly Named Rutgers President Hopes for Input on Merger

Rutgers University yesterday named Robert L. Barchi, president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, to be its new president as of September 1, two months after the proposed higher education restructuring is to be in place.

Shortly after being chosen unanimously by Rutgers’ Board of Governors, Barchi said he “would hope I would have some input” into whether Rutgers takes control of three units of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and gives its Camden campus to Rowan University.

But Ralph Izzo, chairman of the board of governors, was quick to say the restructuring would be completed two months before Barchi takes office.

“The time scale on that is two months prior to Bob’s joining us, so we will have that resolved,” said Izzo, who is also chairman of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.

Barchi made it clear he was not taking a position on the restructuring that Gov. Chris Christie wants to see in place by July 1. Still, he received vigorous and sustained applause when he described Rutgers as a united university with three campuses.

“I’m not talking about Rutgers New Brunswick; Rutgers as a university includes Rutgers Camden and includes Rutgers Newark,” he said. “I’m not taking a political position here. I’m stating a fact. We are a single university. Our three campuses all contribute to what makes this university great. Newark and Camden add their own value and own set of perspectives to what we have to offer.”

The restructuring proposed by the UMDNJ Advisory Committee and embraced by Christie has been controversial since its unveiling Jan. 25. Rutgers’ current president Richard McCormick embraced the university’s taking control of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the School of Public Health and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. But the chancellor, faculty, students and alumni at the Camden campus have vehemently opposed being annexed by Rowan and polls have shown a majority of New Jerseyans opposes that as well.

There is also no estimated cost of the restructuring and Christie’s higher education secretary says none will be available before July 1, when the governor has said he wants the plan in place.

Christie originally was expected to execute the changes through an executive order, but a subsequent appellate court decision has put his ability to do that in doubt, which would mean the legislature would have to pass it.

Within the past two weeks, lawmakers have been in discussions with officials from Rutgers and Rowan over a compromise. The talks involve trying to elevate Rowan’s status to that of a research university for South Jersey through a partnership with Rutgers-Camden while still keeping the Rutgers name and giving the Camden campus greater autonomy from Rutgers-New Brunswick.

But Christie once again dismissed the idea of Rutgers-Camden keeping its name if the campus is merged into Rowan University, according to a report by NJ Spotlight partner NewsWorks NJ.

"I'm not going to let anybody keep the Rutgers name unless they're being governed by Rutgers," he said. "I'm supporting my plan. We're going to move forward with my plan and my plan is going to be implemented.

"The people at Rutgers Camden need to get ready for that, and that's what they're doing," he said.

Barchi said that whatever the outcome, he is prepared to lead the state university, which was founded in 1766 and serves 58,000 students.

“I considered being president of Rutgers and whatever the board and the state decide to make the state university of New Jersey, I’d do my best to provide what that state university should provide,” he said.

A neuroscientist, Barchi’s background as president of a health sciences university with a medical college was considered a benefit as Rutgers prepares to assume leadership of the three Central Jersey units of UMDNJ.

“Robert Barchi combines the key qualifications that are necessary to serve as the next president of Rutgers: A successful tenure leading a highly regarded health sciences university, years of experience as the chief academic administrator of a world-class comprehensive research university and a stellar reputation as a scientific researcher and an award-winning educator,” Izzo said.

Rutgers’ Board of Governors also gave Barchi tenure as a professor. Rutgers’ Board of Trustees ratified the choice of Barchi as president.

Barchi was chosen after a national search for a replacement for McCormick, who announced his resignation as president last May. He will stay on as a university professor.

The search committee received more than 250 applications and actively considered 70 candidates before recommending four finalists to the two governing boards.

Born in Philadelphia, Barchi lived in Westfield for a time. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University and his doctorate and medical degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

He began teaching at University of Pennsylvania in 1972 and became its provost in 1999, a position he held until becoming president of Thomas Jefferson eight years ago. Barchi also talked about changing to meet the challenges that all colleges have been facing as states like New Jersey have seen reduced support for higher education over time.

“The business plan for higher education that we have all lived with for the last 50 years simply will not sustain us for the next 50 years,” he said. “We need a fundamental change … What we have to do here is create a new concept of higher education at the state university level, which is a public private hybrid, [and] at the same time not lose focus on our principal role as the flagship university in the state of New Jersey.”

Colleen O'Dea is an editor-at-large for NJ Spotlight.

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