Last Friday, Rutgers President Dick McCormick met with three groups on the university’s Camden Campus. One of these meetings was a regularly scheduled University Senate meeting. The other two were with faculty and students, to talk about the governor’s proposal to severe the Camden Campus from Rutgers and give it to Rowan University.
The first meeting was with faculty. While the auditorium door was closed McCormick did not ask that the meeting not be taped. There were a few themes to his remarks.
One was that it is clear after last Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting that at this point in time the Board would not approve the measure. Both the Rutgers Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees would have to agree before the change could be made. There is general approval of the central part of the plan, that the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the Cancer Institute merge with Rutgers New Brunswick. There is already a long history of collaboration among these organizations. In fact, the medical school used to be part of Rutgers (see details below). However, the loss of the Camden Campus was very unpopular among the Trustees. This throws a monkey wrench into the works. McCormick said that present these two parts of the plan were combined at the request of South Jersey political forces.
A second theme was that, although not put into these exact terms, McCormick would give up the Camden Campus in order to get a New Brunswick medical school. However, as stated above, it is not his decision. Once the stance of the Board of Trustees became apparent McCormick said the situation had changed. He says he and others tried very hard to separate the parts of the proposal, and to offer alternatives, such as a separate budget line for Camden and / or greater collaboration between Rutgers Camden and Rowan.
A third theme is that one reason he won’t fight harder is fear of retribution. He was asked why the University didn’t simply say no to the whole proposal and then suggest a path forward more to its liking. The theory being the state has limited options on what to do with UMDNJ, the parent university for the state’s freestanding medical schools. McCormick said there was a fear of reprisal in regards to the university’s budget. He said in 1970 the university gave up it’s medical school (renamed the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School) because the state said if it didn’t all money to support the school would be withheld. While in this situation no specific threat had been issued he felt it was a possibility.
These three themes were repeated at each of the three meetings, although he backpedaled on the issue of budget reprisal later in the day.
There are two other interesting statements he made during the day. One was that regardless of how the situation resolved he thought more higher education money would be going to South Jersey. The other is that he thought South Jersey politicians wanted higher education in South Jersey to be more responsive to them. McCormick cited the immediate past history of UMDNJ as a cautionary tale if that option is followed too far. (This would be a reference to the case of former State Senator Wayne Bryant who had a “no show” job at UMDNJ and one reason why he is currently in prison.)
At all of the meetings students, faculty, staff, University Senators, and alumni spoke against the loss of the Camden Campus of Rutgers. One man from Newark teared up as he recounted how his life had been changed for the better by the University Scholars program, that had led him to be a student at Rutgers where he had returned as a teacher. He did not want Camden youth to miss that opportunity.
McCormick is stepping down in a few months and is guaranteed a very well-paying job in the history department on the New Brunswick campus ($300,000+). Currently all three universities involved (UMDNJ, Rowan, and Rutgers) have interim or lame duck presidents.