N.J. considers expanding Rutgers board of governors

 A packed house in Gordon theater responds to encouraging words from members of the Rutgers University Board of Governors during a meeting on the Rutgers-Camden campus in 2012. (Emma Lee/NewsWorks Photo, file)

A packed house in Gordon theater responds to encouraging words from members of the Rutgers University Board of Governors during a meeting on the Rutgers-Camden campus in 2012. (Emma Lee/NewsWorks Photo, file)

New Jersey’s Senate is prepared to vote Thursday on a bill that would add four new members to Rutgers University’s board of trustees.

If the measure passes in the Senate, and then the Assembly, two of the added members would be appointed by the governor. One would be selected by the Assembly Speaker and another by the leader of the Senate.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the measure would modernize and improve the governance of the university.

“What you have is a group that likes it how it is, and they forget that the state is a big, big financial partner in that institution,” Sweeney said Wednesday.

But there are questions about expanding the board of governors when a Rutgers task force has recommended reducing its advisory board of trustees.

“That I think just points to the utter transparent flimsiness of Sweeney’s position,” said Andrew Shankman, a history professor at Rutgers-Camden. “Last year, he was yelling and screaming about how big these boards were and how unwieldy they were, but he’s not really concerned about bigness or unwieldiness. What he’s concerned about is control.”

And Sen. Ray Lesniak said he believes the expansion would reduce the independence of the board.

“I’m concerned that making the board subject to the political process entirely could impede that independence,” said Lesniak, D-Union. “I’m hopeful we can reach a compromise to preserve that.”

The additional board members would reflect the merger lawmakers approved last year that expanded Rutgers, Sweeney said.

“Because it has a medical school now, and it’s a different school than it was before we did it, all four new members would have to have a health care background. Two of them have to be Rutgers alum,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “What are they afraid of?”

Shankman said if the law in enacted, he believes Rutgers will take legal action to block it.

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