The Rutgers Merger

The Rutgers Merger: Governance and Funding

By Michael M. Shapiro



Two major issues lie at the heart of disagreement over the Rutgers Merger: governance and funding. Currently, the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees govern Rutgers University. The Boards are chosen through various vehicles to ensure independence, yet also include appointees of the Governor. The Rutgers Merger Plan calls for the dissolution of the Rutgers' Boards and the institution of a Chancellor, appointed by the Governor and based in Trenton, who then appoints a Board of Regents. The problem with such a plan is that the State University of New Jersey could become a political football. The other crucial issue is funding: the draft proposal indicates there will be a $2 billion bond initiative to fund the Merger. The concern here is that the bond initiative may not fully fund the Merger and there is no guarantee of future funds should additional expenses arise down the road. Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, it appears that some of our worst fears about the Merger are quickly coming to fruition. 

On Monday, November 17, 2003, Rutgers' administrators were told that if they did not agree to the Rutgers Merger by December 1, there would be no $2 billion higher education bond proposal on the ballot in 2004. However, the Merger Plan will not be finalized until December 10, 2003, forcing the Rutgers' Boards to vote for a proposal that has not yet been finalized. On November 18, 2003, the Governor set a new deadline of January 1, 2004 for the Rutgers Board of Trustees to decide whether they would support the Merger. Still, the Board will not receive the final Merger Proposal until December 10, 2003, giving them approximately two weeks to make a decision that will change Rutgers and impact the State of New Jersey forever. That two-week period of deliberation happens to occur during the Holiday Season when Rutgers is out of session, students, faculty and most administrators are home for the holidays, and there is little chance to form any organized opposition. Adding insult to injury, the Administration accused the Rutgers Boards of stalling, despite the fact that for the past few months, the Boards' representatives have been negotiating with the Governor's Office in good faith. 

On Wednesday, November 19, 2003, the Governor's Office announced that unless Rutgers agreed to the Merger Proposal by January 1, there would be no bond initiative for increased funding for higher education. This additional political pressure backfired, causing leaders of other colleges who have been fighting for increased aid to higher education to argue for a higher education bond initiative whether there is a Merger initiative or not. The Rutgers Boards were further incensed that the Governor was appearing to cause friction among the various college leaders to increase pressure on Rutgers to approve the Merger. Newspaper editorial boards reacted similarly, as did various public opinion polls. The concern of a politicized higher education system in New Jersey, controlled by the politicians in Trenton, had materialized, even before the Merger had been approved.

Meanwhile, the issue of funding continues to cause consternation. The $2 billion bond initiative is a large sum of money. However, only a small fraction of the funds actually goes to Rutgers; most of the money is being utilized to fund projects at other colleges in New Jersey. Therefore, the sum may be inadequate to satisfy the demands of the Merger Proposal. Furthermore, there is no provision for the funding of expenses down the road that result from the Merger and no guarantee of state funding for higher education in the future, once the bond initiative passes. 

The Governor has lofty goals for higher education in New Jersey and for that, he should be congratulated. However, higher education, particularly Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is too important to become a political football. We cannot allow the crown jewel of the Garden State to become a reed that bends to whatever political winds happen to be blowing at that time. The future of New Jersey - - education, business, law, and medicine - - will be determined by the Rutgers Merger Proposal. Given the complexities of the issues it raises and the enormity of the project we are considering to undertake, deliberation and utmost care must be taken to ensure that the State University of New Jersey remains our University, for generations to come.

Michael M. Shapiro is a third--year student at Stanford Law School. He serves on the Alumni and External Affairs Committee of the Stanford University Board of Trustees and was President of the Student Body at Stanford Law School. He 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 mikeshapiro@stanfordalumni.org


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