Transactional Politics Won’t Protect Rutgers Institutional Integrity

promoted by Rosi

Throughout his career John Farmer, the former NJ Attorney General and Current Rutgers General Counsel, has been a sane voice of reason in the most complicated of circumstances. His reasoned counsel won him recognition as one of New Jersey’s top general counsel’s this year by NJ Biz. But General Farmer’s reasoned counsel in the ongoing matter of State Senator Steve Sweeney vs. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, puts Rutgers at risk and fails to support  General Farmer’s comprehensive view of New Jersey and Rutgers history, institutional heritage, laws and public policies.  

General Farmer counsels Rutgers away from legal action if the state legislature enacts S1860 and A3046 which would expand the Rutgers Board of Governors and reshape the political balance between political appointees and Board of Trustee appointees.  

While General Farmer continues to see the legislation as both unconstitutional and unnecessary, he opposes legal action against the State of New Jersey by Rutgers if the bills pass and are signed into law by Governor Christie.  While this may make sense as a short-term political tactic, it fails as an overall organizational strategy and as an institutional strategy that maintains the Board of Trustees as long-term guardians of Rutgers fiduciary health and institutional integrity. Worst of all, General Farmer’s opinion fails to honor the heroic efforts of the academic, political and professional leaders who used both the framing of the NJ Constitution in 1947 and the Rutgers Compact of 1956 to create powerful institutional bulwarks against the regional fiefdoms and parochial politics that have historically dominated New Jersey economics and policy.

While General Farmer sees face saving retreat by New Jersey’s legislative leadership in the amended bills (which still shift the power on the Board of Governors to political appointees beholden to the governor and the leadership in the state legislature), the reality is a continual erosion of Rutgers independence and autonomy and increasing complexity in Rutgers governance, organizational structures, and interorganizational relationships.

Since the failed takeover of Rutgers-Camden by Glassboro State College Rowan University in 2012, both the annual assaults by state legislative leadership on Rutgers autonomy and the annual compromises by Rutgers administrators and board members have increased the amounts and types of boards and board members overseeing Rutgers while adding to the already very real regional rifts that exist throughout The Garden State.

Since 2012 a Rutgers-Camden Board of Directors, a Joint Rowan/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors to oversee joint biomedical projects in Camden, and Advisory Boards for the New Brunswick and Newark campuses have been established. In addition to all these new boards, the higher education restructuring act passed in 2012 calls for at least one member of the Board of Governors to be a resident of Essex County and one to be a resident of Middlesex County.

Rutgers itself has added full-time Chancellors in New Brunswick, Camden and Newark over the last three years in order to ensure that each campus is managed effectively and to address concerns by public officials  that there were inequities in strategy planning and decision-making among the three campuses. Each Chancellor reports directly to the Rutgers President. The new Newark Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, was President of Syracuse University before moving to her new role.

Rather than unifying Rutgers and New Jersey as a whole, the last three years of transactional politics in higher education have done nothing more than pit different regions of the state against each other, eroded Rutgers institutional integrity and chipped away at Rutgers autonomy from political interference.

And all this has taken place against a backdrop of pitiful financial support for Rutgers and New Jersey Higher Education in general by our elected leadership.

NJ State Support of Rutgers Doesn’t Merit 63% Control of RU’s Governing Board

It’s time for Rutgers to take a stand and the transactional politics proposed by General Farmer do nothing to protect either the institutional integrity of Rutgers or our 250 year old heritage dating back to our founding by Royal Charter in 1766.  General Farmer talks of the wisdom and foresight of the framers of the 1956 compact. It’s now time for the Board of Trustees to thank General Farmer for his opinion, politely listen to the comments of Rutgers leadership, but ultimately to exercise their independence and fiduciary responsibility and do what’s right for the university.

And doing what’s right may entail stepping out on their own and filing suit in both state and federal court to stop once and for all these insidious attacks on one of the top research universities in the world by political chieftains with myopic visions, flawed .  

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