The Rutgers Merger Revisited
By: Michael M. Shapiro
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is the crown jewel of the Garden State. If the Governor has his way, however, Rutgers will be combined with several colleges, then sliced and diced into three separate universities, at a cost of approximately $2 billion dollars. That's "b" as in "boy." There is a real need for higher education in New Jersey to promote the sciences in order to combat the "brain drain" of students from New Jersey and in order to ensure that New Jersey's future is technologically sound. However, the Rutgers Merger plan has problems that we simply cannot ignore.
It's not the $2 billion dollars in bonds that will need to be issued through a state-wide bond initiative in November 2004 that is worrisome. Higher education in New Jersey has been terribly underfunded the past few years, especially under the Governorships of Christie Whitman and Jim McGreevey. No, what is disturbing is that our Governor is in the process of transforming OUR University into yet another trough for politicians to enter and abuse.
Under the Governor's plan, the Rutgers merger will result in three separate universities, complete with their own bureaucracies. The $2 billion bond issue will be used to create the new university structure, potentially creating the largest patronage project in the history of the State. Given the Governor's refusal to enact "pay to play" legislation and the Republicans' refusal to go beyond attacking the Governor in sound bites, the Rutgers merger is likely to become a bottomless patronage pit for the largest contributors of both political parties. Contracts for engineering, construction, telecommunications, among others, will be necessary to make this proposed merger work. Given no-bid contracting and its prevalence in the Garden State, the large expenditure of money may very well result in shoddy construction and legislators' pockets lined with large campaign contributions.
Currently, Rutgers is governed by a Board of Governors and a Board of Trustees, composed of members appointed by various groups and individuals including the Governor. Governor McGreevey is making every effort to take control of the University away from the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees and have the Governor of New Jersey appoint a Chancellor who will oversee the entire University structure and who will serve at the pleasure of the Governor.
The Governor of New Jersey is already the most powerful chief executive in the United States other than the President. Is it wise to hand over control of the State University to the Governor's office, as well? Given New Jersey's history of corruption in politics, is it a good idea to rest control of the State University in the hands of politicians? Considering the recent past where Governors of New Jersey have alternately drastically decreased or increased support for the University, is it best to risk the quality and prestige of Rutgers on the capricious whims of future Governors of New Jersey? Would we enjoy the prospect of having a Governor, ten years from now, declaring that Rutgers is to become a private college? As scary as that may be, there is nothing to stop a future Governor from doing so under McGreevey's plan.
Rutgers is the State University of New Jersey. It is too important to leave to the political winds that happen to be blowing at any one time. It is far too vital to the people of New Jersey to be left in the hands of politicians, who, all too often, have forgotten the concept of public service. It is too special to be controlled through dictate from Trenton. The loyal sons and daughters of Rutgers and the citizens of New Jersey must stand strong in the days ahead to ensure that OUR State University remains of the people, by the people and for the people.
Michael M. Shapiro works in New York City and resides in New Jersey. He graduated from Stanford Law School, where he served as Student Body President. Mike graduated from Rutgers College, Rutgers University in 1998 with a B.A. in Political Science, and became one of the youngest people in the State of New Jersey to run for office of a major city when he ran for Mayor of the City of New Brunswick in 1998 at the age of 21. Mike welcomes your feedback via e-mail at email@example.com.