Rowan Objects: University Goes Public With Opposition to Proposed Merger

Tara Nurin | June 11, 2012 | Education
Legislation to create joint governing board brings fierce rejoinder from Rowan faculty senate

There’s been no end to hoopla over the fact that the Rutgers University faculty opposes a proposed merger between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University. Now it appears that the Rowan faculty does not support the restructuring either.

Proposed legislation that would have given Rutgers some say-so over Rowan and vice versa has kindled the opposition — or at least brought it into the open. Essentially, the legislation would establish a powerful joint governing board to link the Glassboro institution to Rutgers-Camden.

According to the first paragraph of a position statement issued by the executive board of Rowan’s faculty senate, “While claiming to improve governance structure for Rowan and Rutgers-Camden, this legislation will instead diminish the autonomy and potential growth of both universities.”

Rowan’s senate is an advisory board comprised of 66 elected members who represent each academic department and various support departments. The statement was emailed to Rowan faculty, staff, coaches and librarians last week, in advance of an employee-wide vote scheduled for Friday. After months of relative public neutrality, this marks the first time Rowan’s faculty and staff have codified an opinion on the controversial plan to overhaul higher education in New Jersey.

The timing of the statement coincides with two related events scheduled for this week: a special meeting of Rowan’s Board of Trustees slated for this afternoon, during which trustees are expected to offer their own alternatives to the proposed joint board, and a hearing held by the New Jersey Senate Committee on Higher Education on Thursday. Rowan’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers will testify at the hearing, and NJ Spotlight has obtained slides from a PowerPoint presentation that demonstrates the local’s own opposition to the identical state Senate and Assembly bills that were introduced to the legislature last week.

If events unfold as anticipated, the measures will bring Rowan’s trustees and faculty into alignment with faculty from all three of Rutgers’ campuses — whose senates approved similar positions months ago — as well as Rutgers’ boards of trustees and governors, who affirmed their own set of principles last Wednesday. The 14-member Rowan Board of Trustees consists of gubernatorial appointees who carry the authority to make decisions for the university.

The authors of the Rowan position paper fear the vast fiduciary and operational authority of the joint board, which they say would delay decisions by months and “subvert the responsibility both campus’ trustees to make decisions in their university’s best interests. They also note that three of its seven members would be gubernatorial appointees who would not be required to have South Jersey ties, a fact they believe would leave these appointees’ interests and motivations open to question.

The statement also claims that many of the provisions guiding the creation of a joint board are based on “flawed assumptions and misguided principles.” Among them, they argue that:

  • A proposed Rutgers-Camden board of trustees would by extension set academic policies for Rowan because the joint board would oversee the academic policies of both schools.
  • The joint governing boards’ ability to approve or disapprove any decision made by the boards of both schools would nullify the trustees’ decisions and would cause the campus boards to be viewed as “untrustworthy in their decision-making and thus require oversight by another entity.”
  • The board’s authority to allocate resources for housing, student affairs, and security could divert tuition money and grant funding from one school to another.
  • The bill specifically allows the board to set policy for the financing of capital improvements and expansions to all of its health science facilities, which could present conflicts with the universities themselves.
  • Union structures at both campuses differ, making joint faculty appointments difficult or impossible.
  • In a statement, senate president Eric Milou said, “We ask: Does such a board create greater educational opportunities in southern New Jersey? Does it improve the quality or delivery of education? Does such reorganization reduce the costs of education for the state? Does it create greater and equal educational opportunities for all New Jersey residents? The answer to each of these questions is absolutely NOT.”

    Opponents at Rutgers-Camden welcomed news of the senate’s statement. Andrew Shankman, of the Committee to Save Rutgers-Camden, said, “I’m not surprised. The Rowan faculty are committed professionals and they see a bill that’s terribly damaging and does a grave disservice to both of our universities.”

    Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Gloucester), who co-sponsored the senate bill, said, “Their perspective is important. What they have to say matters and we’ll listen to their concerns and take them into consideration.”

    The senate’s position statement recommends that legislators replace the joint board with the appointment of two representatives each from Rutgers-Camden and Rowan to serve on each other’s boards in order to encourage collaboration between the two. Additionally, they suggest a liaison officer whose salary would be paid by both institutions to coordinate those efforts.