Take it away, "Old Jersey Professor!"
Excellence without money? That’s so 2011. In 2012 in New Jersey we have a new slogan: “To save education you have to destroy it.” That is the goal of Governor Chris Christie. In January his hand-picked commission came up with a proposal to hand over Rutgers Camden, part of Rutgers, one of 61 AAU universities in North America, to Rowan University, a comprehensive university over 20 miles away from the Camden campus. Why? Well, it has nothing to do with education and everything to do with, yep, money.
Rowan University, at the behest of New Jersey political boss George Norcross, absorbed Cooper Medical School and turned it from a 2-year part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into a 4-year medical school starting in the fall of 2012. (For more about George Norcross watch our former governor explain him to some Girl Scouts.) There is a reason some folks refer to New Jersey as Swamp Land.
And guess what? Cooper is broke. It relies on the state for funding and has bonds one step above junk grade.
The solution, according to the political bosses, is to take over Rutgers Camden so that Rowan-Cooper can use its cash flow to borrow money at better rates. And yes, of course, the governor and his political cronies are covering up this naked cash grab with talk of creating a bigger and better university in southern New Jersey. When politicians talk about improving education, lock up your wallet, and your children.
When folks object to us calling this move a “hostile takeover” we just switch to Anschluss. And when our friends say, "Well, that’s just New Jersey," we say, “Have you been paying attention to what is happening to public education in this country?” Your bond rating or your endowment just might be bait for some of your own political “leaders.” On March 22 Rowan released what it called a plan and we call a fantasy. It is “take the money and run” and not of the Woody Allen variety. The proposal is to grab the money (all of Rutgers Camden and its assets) fourteen months after a legislated takeover and then it promises to figure out how to create a research university -- there are no details, there is no budget, it is the land of hope and dreams . . . and not of the Bruce variety.
And hey, speaking of “the Boss,” yes, he’s a Jersey guy and the students have reached out to him with this wonderful video:
We are organized! Our wonderful students created an online petition and a fabulous website. The alumni are raising money and running advertisements, and our union Rutgers AAUP/AFT helped everyone get organized and on message and provided funds for the leaflets and the lawn signs. We’ve got faculty from four schools -- business, law, nursing, and arts and sciences -- on the job, writing briefs, digging into budgets, organizing the community, and putting out statements to the press. Our administration stood up and said “No,” hosting two town hall meetings preceded by demonstrations. The media gave us good coverage, and everyone spoke up at meetings of the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees. Two Facebook support groups keep everyone informed. Our information page is updated several times a day (though it has been hacked, so you might not get there), and we’ve created our own not-for-profit group to raise money for our ad buys, lobbying, and, if need be, litigation.
All this has helped to bridge a bit of a generation gap. Turning to a younger colleague, I said, “This is so much easier than sixties organizing when we didn’t have cell phones or computers.” He replied, “I was born in 1970!” Wow -- where did the time go? A student asked me about my Twitter feed and I had to confess that no, I don’t tweet. Younger folks are all over social media, but everyone can give interviews, write press releases, lobby, share hugs, raise money and attend legislative hearings. Damn we are good!
But will we prevail? I think so. We don’t have lawyers, guns, and money, as the late Warren Zevon put it, but we do have lawyers, smarts, and damn good fundraising skills. Roxie -- I’ll update you on this. In the meantime, please go sign our petition. We hope to hit 13,000 signatures soon!
Thanks again, Old Jersey Prof. And remember, kids, as the Boss says, "Nobody wins unless everybody wins." This fight is our fight, too. Hang in there, Jersey boys, girls, and critters. We are with you!