Gov. Chris Christie unveiled a sweeping plan last week to overhaul New Jersey’s university system, with the aim of capturing more grant money at a time when higher education is severely underfunded. Rowan, a South Jersey state college, would take over the Camden campus of Rutgers, including its law and business schools. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey would be broken up, and its high-profile medical school awarded to Rutgers.
Robert Campbell, a member of the governor’s special task force and a former Johnson & Johnson executive, thinks this is a big win for the state. He recently spoke with Star-Ledger editorial writer Julie O’Connor.
Q. What do you see as the strongest arguments for this plan?
A. We’ve long been talking about Rutgers going from good to great since (former Gov. Tom) Kean’s task force on higher education two years ago. Merging it with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Cancer Institute of New Jersey and School of Public Health could bring in a lot more research dollars. Rutgers would be viewed in a different way by corporate and government funders.
Grants turn into jobs — and, hopefully, into products eventually. Being that New Jersey is the pharmaceutical center of the country, in the long run, these grants should provide plenty of opportunities in biomedical research and health sciences.
This plan is also good for South Jersey. … It puts Rowan on a new level and it becomes part of a comprehensive university, interconnected with other pieces rather than just being a branch of Rutgers. If Rowan wants to expand in the future, having that base of what was Rutgers provides an anchor.
Q. Do you have any concerns about it?
A. Not about the plan. But I would expect there’s going to be push-back from people who would rather see things a different way.
Q. What about the fate of University Hospital?
A. University Hospital is extremely important to Newark and the state. We feel it will benefit from being operated separately from the university, where it will have its own focus and be improved by private management that has experience with broader health care systems. The state will still have to come up with some funding; there’s no doubt about that. The hospital’s equipment andinfrastructure is badly in need of investment.
Q. Are you worried that the Rutgers board of trustees won’t approve of this plan, if it means giving up Rutgers-Camden?
A. Worry isn’t the word. My feeling is, we’ve put forward our recommendations. I don’t know where Rutgers will come down on it, but I would hope they’d approve it.
Q. Students and staff at Rutgers-Camden feel they’re getting the short shrift by merging with Rowan, a lesser-known, smaller college. What’s your take?
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