Rutgers University merges with state’s medical/dental school

November 22, 2012 Comments Off

Rutgers UniversityBy Colleen O’Dea

Rutgers University’s governing boards agreed to take control of most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), with no dissent and none of the vitriol that marked the debate over the restructuring of higher education in the first half of the year.

However, the resolution approved by the board of governors and board of trustees does contain five conditions, including two that primarily deal with the financial health and stability of University Hospital. The Newark facility will remain the primary teaching hospital for UMDNJ’s Newark medical schools that are being transferred to Rutgers.

Merger differs from original plan
The restructuring accepted during a joint meeting of the two boards, little resembled the initial plan put forth this past January by a gubernatorial commission headed by Sol Barer, who is also a Rutgers trustee, and endorsed by Gov. Chris Christie. Under that plan,

Rutgers would have received only three units from UMDNJ and would have had to give its Camden campus to Rowan University in Glassboro. UMDNJ would have remained a smaller medical university with its own hospital.

Ultimately, the united and vocal opposition from students, faculty, staff, and alumni in Camden, and from some of Rutgers’ trustees, led to last-minute revisions in Trenton. The resultant law not only kept the Camden campus as part of Rutgers, but also has the university absorbing all of UMDNJ except its School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) and University Hospital. Getting the medical, dental and nursing schools closes a circle for Rutgers, which had a medical facility until the 1970s, when UMDNJ was created.

“As I looked at the situation last spring, this was as good of an outcome as I could have imagined,” said Rutgers President Robert Barchi, who was hired in the midst of the controversy. “In terms of strengthening higher education in the state and successfully building another R-1 [research] university, in South Jersey, this is the right play. And you’re not destroying or diminishing the power of the great state university that is Rutgers.”

Approval of any restructuring by the Rutgers’ boards started out as a threat to try to stop legislators from taking Camden away. The university asserts a 1956 covenant with the state requires the Rutgers boards’ consent on all structural changes. But due to the complexity and expense of the proposition, the boards’ approval turned into a necessity.

“It is absolutely critical that we understand the inside and out of this in order to be able to support it,” said Daniel Schulman, a member of the board of governors. The conclusion the joint boards can draw from their examination of the financial aspects is that the expanded Rutgers would be “a viable institution with positive cash flows.”

Some financial details, notably absent from the Barer Commission report, finally got an airing. Officials put the one-time costs at between $45 million and $75 million spread over two years, due to the transfer of the UMDNJ units and Rutgers’ portion of the medical schools’ debt at $456 million. There are likely to be future costs to upgrade the Newark schools because “the facilities coming over are not all up to Rutgers standards,” said Schulman, but no specifics were given.

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