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Over faculty objections, Rowan trustees signal approval of Rutgers merger

Rowan University’s board of trustees today unanimously endorsed proposed legislation to designate Rowan as a research institution and create a joint board between Rutgers University’s Camden campus and Rowan, with the clause that the legislation still retains “the individual autonomy of both institutions and their…

Rowan University’s board of trustees today unanimously endorsed proposed legislation to designate Rowan as a research institution and create a joint board between Rutgers University’s Camden campus and Rowan, with the clause that the legislation still retains “the individual autonomy of both institutions and their respective governing boards.”

“We hope to see an amendment to the legislation with simple language saying the new board does not have complete authority,” said Ali Houshmand, the board’s ex-officio. “It has to be limited. This is a new direction with the same result.”

Houshmand said “the whole notion of a merger is behind us,” noting that the proposed bill does not clearly call for a merger between the two universities.

In its unanimously passed resolution, the board resolved that “legislation which could affect the autonomy of the Rowan governing structure requires additional analysis,” and it authorized the university president, board of trustees chair and counsel to participate in efforts to finalize the pending legislation.

Houshmand stood by the board’s support for the legislation, despite hearing Rowan faculty voice their concerns about the reorganization during the meeting’s public session after keeping quiet for months.

“The recent resolution set forth by Rutgers’ board of trustees said both Rowan and Rutgers must retain independence and autonomy, and we consider doing the same,” Rowan University Senate President Eric Milou said in a statement to the 14-member board at today’s emergency meeting. “Does the reorganization reduce the costs of education for the state? The answer … is absolutely not. It adds a new layer of bureaucracy, which will only undermine your authority.”

Milou said the university Senate has introduced alternatives to the formation of a joint board — which will be granted the authority to approve and disapprove the decisions of both universities’ governing bodies, under proposed legislation — such as appointing two liaison officers from each institution to coordinate efforts between the colleges. The Senate will hold a meeting Friday, at which point Milou will urge faculty, staff and students to oppose the bill.  

In a statement to the board, Demond Miller, associate professor of sociology at Rowan, called the proposed reorganization a “misguided attempt by lawmakers” to create a South Jersey higher education authority.

“The current legislation creates yet another authority in the state that could render your decisions … you who know us best … nothing more than virtual rubbish in a political world not of our choosing,” Miller told the board. “We need you to stand at this moment in your university’s history.”

Sanford Tweedie, a professor in the writing arts department at Rowan, highlighted that the 54 resolutions Rowan’s board of trustees will consider this week could be overturned by the proposed joint board.

“Look at the bill itself. It could slow down or inhibit the university,” Tweedie said. “This is not a restructuring act, it is a destructuring action.”

Gregory Hecht, an associate professor of biological sciences, said the current legislation “looks like its set up to make sure Rowan University fails.”

“We would have to take on UMDNJ’s debt and legal liability. There’s no discussion of the costs involved in a Rowan-UMDNJ merger, and we could end up shouldering it,” Hecht said in a statement to the board. “We’ll have no say in how we manage our affairs. I don’t think any institution could succeed under that scenario.”

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