Opponents of Rutgers merger heartened by N.J. high court ruling on parallel issue

    Opponents of New Jersey Gov, Chris Christie’s plan to merge Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University have long argued that he lacks the power to do so without the cooperation of the state Legislature.

    A decision this week by the New Jersey Supreme Court has given those opponents another reason to think that they’re right.

    When Christie proposed his plan to consolidate New Jersey’s state-run colleges and universities by use of executive order, opponents began training a keen eye on a wholly separate issue — Christie’s proposed abolition of the state’s council on affordable housing, or COAH.

    In both issues, the question’s been the same: Does the governor have the authority to make these decisions on his own?

    So far, on the COAH issue, New Jersey’s courts have said “no.”

    In March, an appellate court said Christie overstepped his power in closing the housing agency, and ordered it reopened. After that decision, the Christie Administration turned to the state Supreme Court, asking that the court hear an appeal and, for the time being, keep COAH closed.

    On Monday, the court denied Christie that second request, and is still deciding whether to hear his appeal.

    Opponents of the merger plan believe this vindicates their position.

    “The New Jersey Supreme Court decision was actually quite good news for people who have argued now for months that the governor does not have executive reorganization authority over our university,” said Robert Williams, a professor of New Jersey constitutional law at one of the universities in question, Rutgers-Camden.

    Though a setback, this doesn’t mean Christie’s hopes for a merger are dead.

    State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has proposed legislation for his own merger plan that would allow Rutgers-Camden and Rowan to retain their names operate under a joint governing board.

    But in order for the bill to get anywhere, Williams says there’s another major hurdle.

    “Any reorganization of Rutgers requires the consent of the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees — so that’s going to be an out and out collision,” said Williams.

    Both Christie and Sweeney say they hope to have a plan in place by the end of June.

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