CAMDEN, NJ - In a surprising move, a committee appointed by Governor Christie recommended that Rutgers University's Camden campus and law school be handed over to Glasboro, NJ's Rowan University.
The 5-member University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ Advisory Committee, chaired by Dr. Sol J. Barber, also supported the already-proposed merger of parts of UMDNJ, including the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey into the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus.
And less than 24 hours later, the Rutgers community received more difficult news when Florida media outlets began reporting that Rutgers' head football coach for the past 11 years was in talks to take a job with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
By early afternoon, the reports were confirmed and the deal was made official, sending Coach Greg Schiano to Tampa and leaving the program he built with an incredibly uncertain future, just days before many high school players formally decide where they will play college football on February 1.
Of course, the shake-up in the football program dominated the news cycle, but the proposal to eliminate Rutgers' only South Jersey campus is undoubtedly more important to the future of the state and the University. After all, Rutgers lost $2.9M on its football program a year ago, nearly 80% of it on Schiano's costly salary.
Outgoing University President Richard McCormick did not come down one way or the other on the controversial plan to give away the RU-Camden campus. He said in a statement to the Rutgers community that the proposed restructuring would "require a thorough discussion and an important decision."
"The university has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Camden campus—including more than $100 million over the past five years for new academic and student facilities. Rutgers has made a significant commitment to South Jersey, which is part of our pledge to serve the entire state and is intrinsic to our role as The State University of New Jersey."
The commission's recommendation centers around Cooper University Hospital's partnership with Rowan to create South Jersey's first medical school. Cooper is the largest hospital in the Camden area and its' board of directors is chaired by unelected Democratic political boss George Norcross.
At first glance, the restructuring appears to be a handout to the hospital, and by proxy to Norcross, who has crossed party lines numerous times to support the state's Republican Governor since the 2009 election.
Norcross said on the hospital's behalf: “We are pleased with the recommendations...This bold plan will transform education in South Jersey and ignite the economy by attracting private investment opportunities, producing greater research funding and significantly increasing the options for New Jersey residents.”
PolitickerNJ.com declared him a "winner" for the week, and Newark a "loser," because the city is home to the largest campus of UMDNJ, which will be giving up two of its eight schools to Rutgers-New Brunswick.
UMDNJ's President William Owen unexpectedly reversed his position on the merger with Rutgers shortly before announcing his resignation last year.
But it appears that RU-Camden, and its prestigious law school, won't go down without a fight. A Facebook group opposing the merger garnered over 1,600 "likes" and a petition on the website change.org has received over 3,000 signatures.
Rutgers-Camden scheduled two one-hour public forums to discuss the issue in the coming weeks:
Rutgers-Camden is the descendant of The College of South Jersey and the South Jersey Law School, which joined the Rutgers system in 1950.
Schiano is required to pay $800,000 to buy out the remainder of his contract with the University. He made $2.3M/yearand was the highest-paid state employee. His record as head coach was 68 wins and 67 losses.
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