Rutgers-Camden takeover: Follow the money

I’m a cartoonist, not an English major. But every time I see news about the proposed Rutgers-Camden and Rowan “merger,” I get angry that news outlets aren’t using the word “takeover.” Especially since what’s happening is about as subtle as a knee to the crotch.

This is part of a series from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

I’m a cartoonist, not an English major. But every time I see news about the proposed Rutgers-Camden and Rowan “merger,” I get angry that news outlets aren’t using the word “takeover.” Especially since what’s happening is about as subtle as a knee to the crotch.

Under Christie’s plan (which he’s unwilling to budge from), Rutgers would lose the Rutgers-Camden campus to Rowan University, and take over the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) facilities in New Brunswick and Piscataway.

Maybe I’m missing something, but from the Governor saying Rutgers-Camden would be folded into Rowan no matter what, to Rowan itself unveiling a plan to implement its proposals without any input from Rutgers staff, it all seems like a take-over by fiat to me.

What’s the reason? I think it’s money. George Norcross money.

Norcross, the chairman of Cooper Health System and a well-know South Jersey political boss, orchestrated the creation of The Cooper Medical School and steered it into a partnership with Rowan University. The new medical school is set to open in September, and when it does, it will be the only medical school in the country not part of a research university. Hence the takeover.

Rowan’s own website indicates that a primary source of revenue will be tuition earned in Camden. Just as significant, a takeover of Rutgers-Camden is important to improving Rowan’s bond rating.

Last May, Moody’s Investment Services raised concerns about the size of Rowan’s debt, its ability to borrow without affecting its credit rating, and its need to grow tuition revenue to service its debt. A takeover of the low-debt Rutgers-Camden campus would be a financial windfall for Rowan – it’s no wonder it’s being pushed so hard.

In addition to losing its Camden campus, Rutgers would take over UMDNJ, which means taking over its $450 million in debt owed for loans used to build campus facilities. Also, according to Bruce Fehn, Rutgers’ chief financial officer, even though it appears Rutgers will be getting nearly $400 million in assets in the deal, only about $50 million or so are free of debt.

Norcross described the takeover as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” in an editorial in The Courier-Post, and he couldn’t be more right… for himself. As Rutgers history professor Howard Gillette noted, in this takeover “raw power masquerades as benevolence.”

Norcross may have a case to make for his hospital and South Jersey, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of Rutgers-Camden or its students. 

Oh, and to everyone who supports the takeover on the basis that South Jersey doesn’t have a research university, it does – it’s called Rutgers-Camden.

Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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