The State Legislature is taking another swing at the Rutgers University governance structures after failing to gift Rutgers-Camden to Rowan University in 2012 and failing to eliminate the Rutgers Board of Trustees in last year’s legislative session.
S1860 and A3046 Sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto respectively, would increase the number of political appointees on the Rutgers Board of Governors (the BOG) from 15 to 19, effectively diluting the Board of Trustees voting rights by creating a 12-7 majority of political appointees on the Rutgers BOG. The Rutgers BOG has already expanded from 11 to 15 members as part of the UMDNJ merger and a further expansion to 19 members would create a very unwieldy operating board sitting on top of a complex governance structure that was made even more complex by the “compromises” arising from the recent machinations surrounding the proposed give-away of Rutgers-Camden to Rowan and the Rowan-Cooper Medical school.
This is simply a bad bill. It creates more complexity and an unwieldy operating board. If the goal is to add medical and biomedical expertise to the BOG (Something the Rutgers Board of Trustees has already done with their own appointments to the BOG following the merger with UMDNJ), simply require that a certain number of gubernatorial appointments have a medical, pharma, or biomedical background. Starting July 1st, there are three BOG vacancies that the Governor can fill with candidates from a medical or biomedical background. These are part of the normal governance rotation and do not require any special legislation or changes in the existing governance structure.
The Rutgers BOG oversees Rutgers $3.6 billion dollar annual budget, appoints the president and provides oversight on key executive, leadership and reputational strategies and initiatives. They are the board that oversees the people and policies that govern Rutgers operations on a day to day basis, while the Rutgers Board of Trustees has primary responsibility for all the assets and property that existed prior to our 1956 contract with the state to serve as New Jersey’s public university.
Rather than focusing on a pattern and record of continual state mismanagement under Governor Christie — the various NJ Transit debacles, a track record of missing deadlines and losing out on Federal dollars across various state agencies, the sacrifice of NJ’s Equine Industry for Atlantic City casino interests, failed economic development initiatives such as the failure to leverage Fort Monmouth’s assets to create new high tech and university innovation clusters, to name just a few — Democratic leadership in the state legislature seems intent on fixing a system that isn’t broken and that has served the state well under both Democratic and Republican leadership since 1956 when Rutgers — founded in 1766 by Royal Charter — entered into a contract with the State of New Jersey to serve as New Jersey’s State University.
The Rutgers Act of 1956 does not allow for changes to Rutgers governance and organizational structures without the consent of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the university’s assets and property dating back to 1766 and provides a direct link with Rutgers colonial heritage. Rutgers is one of only 9 colleges or universities founded before the American Revolution, and along with William and Mary, one of two public institutions of higher education with a colonial heritage. The 1956 Act was structured to keep this heritage intact and to keep Rutgers protected from political interference and outright land grabs.
After two failed attempts at politicizing higher education at Rutgers, you would think New Jersey’s State Democratic Leadership would have learned their lesson by now and would focus on the real issues of stalled economic development, high unemployment, high property taxes, unsustainable traffic congestion, a decaying transit infrastructure and threats to our watersheds in the Highlands of North Jersey and the Pinelands of South Jersey.