Saving Rutgers-Camden

The following guest post is by Jean-Louis Hippolyte, an Associate Professor of French and Director of the European Studies program at Rutgers University-Camden.

“Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought. Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it,” said Abraham Lincoln. This is a message that has been heard and taken up by the Rutgers community in light of the proposed takeover of the Camden campus by Rowan University, as put forward by Governor Christie in his reorganization plan for higher education in New Jersey.

Christie’s hope is to create a “super-university of South Jersey,” able to attract vast sums of research dollars. According to the governor, this merger would cost nothing to the state of New Jersey and its taxpayers, and would be absorbed by Rowan and Rutgers-Camden. This rationale has no bearing in reality. A merger would, in fact, cost upward of hundreds of millions of dollars, the burden of which would be borne by New Jersey taxpayers, and it would fail to attract more funding to South Jersey since Rutgers-Camden would lose its highly coveted research status if it were severed from the Rutgers system.

Rowan would not be able to pay for this merger. According to Moody’s Investors Service, Rowan is already servicing very large debt and the school would require “continued growth in net tuition revenue.” Likewise, Rowan’s future medical school is in equally dire straits, since its venture partner, Cooper Health System, “has a credit rating one step above non-investment grade” according to Moody’s. Rowan and Cooper’s marginal credit rating may actually be one significant reason for the takeover attempt by Rowan and the state: to gain tuition revenue, or more specifically, Rutgers-Camden’s tuition revenue. But the only clear outcome of such a takeover would be to deny South Jersey residents the opportunity to pursue an education at the state’s flagship institution, which is also one of the country’s most prestigious research universities, and leave South Jersey with a financial mess of untold proportions.

As expected, the Governor’s proposal has triggered an avalanche of criticism from students, faculty, staff, and alumni from all Rutgers campuses, and New Jersey citizens have voiced their strong opposition to the merger at multiple protest rallies across the University, before the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees, and at the State Capitol. A student-run website, http://www.r2rmerge.com/, launched a petition opposing the merger that has collected 11,000 signatures to date. A recent poll by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute also found that a clear majority of New Jersey’s registered voters disapprove of the proposed merger. A series of lobbying efforts with the state government have begun taking shape too, and Rutgers students are being trained on the Camden campus to participate in these efforts. In addition, a “Campaign to Save Rutgers-Camden” was founded. The campaign is a non-profit organization formed by faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends of Rutgers-Camden, whose mission is to raise funds to support all of the advocacy efforts necessary to preserve Rutgers University. Its activities include buying advertising, supporting political organizing, and, if necessary, funding litigation.

All in all, these efforts ultimately support one idea: Rutgers-Camden is part of the Rutgers family. And families ought to stay together, not be split apart for money, greed, or power. Many New Jersey citizens and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff understand this. They understand that it is right for Rutgers-Camden to remain part of Rutgers, and that knowledge makes them mighty.

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