Rowan University to become one of New Jersey’s public research universities

 The higher education merger will expand Rowan University's medical school program. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

The higher education merger will expand Rowan University's medical school program. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

7-1-13. Brace Yourself for Impact.

Sounding a lot like a promotion for an end-of-the-world Hollywood blockbuster, this advisory found emblazoned on billboards along Route 55 and the Atlantic City Expressway doesn’t jive with the ordinary, ho-hum ad campaigns typically staged by quiet suburban colleges. But for Rowan University in Glassboro, there’s nothing ordinary at all about July first.

It’s the date that – at least on paper – Rowan is elevated to one of the state’s public research universities. It’s part of a plan to break apart the University of Medicine and Dentistry and have it absorbed by Rowan andRutgers Universities. The changes are mandated under the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act that was approved last fall.

In South Jersey, the biggest changes will be at Rowan University. Rowan will acquire both the School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences both located in nearby Stratford.

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Making it happen

Rowan administrators have been preparing for this since last fall. “Here’s a basic example of the challenges,” said Rowan Interim Vice President of University Relations Joe Cardona. “There’s an operating system for mattersof payroll, student transcripts, patient records, etc. Between us (and SOM), we had 140 technology programs that didn’t align. There is no room for error.”

For the School of Osteopathic Medicine, merging with Rowan comes at a good time. “Some programs may have opportunities for growth, expansion and even potential relocation,” said SOM dean, Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, who notes that because the Stratford schools are overflowing past their space capacity, he welcomes the relationship with Rowan.

In addition to merging systems and marrying cultures, Rowan administrators have sought and received all of their needed accreditations, received approval for three masters and doctorate-level degrees, and created a schoolfor biomedical sciences and engineering.

Rowan and Rutgers to increase collaboration

For Rowan it also means working closer with Rutgers University. Rowan has named its two representatives to a new joint governing board charged with establishing a College of Health Sciences that will operate in conjunction with Rutgers-Camden.

Rutgers has yet to name its two representatives, and Gov. Chris Christie still hasn’t appointed his three, though Rowan University President Ali Houshmand said he’s heard second-hand that those appointments may be comingsoon. Once the board convenes, state law mandates that Rowan and Rutgers-Camden each contribute an annual $2.5 million to fund its edicts.

However, in a situation that threatened to derail the entire state-wide restructuring, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) introduced a bill last week that sought to dismantle one of Rutgers’ two governing boards. Critics protested that such a law would certainly weaken the university’s ability to sell the bonds it needs to cover UMDNJ’s debt and throw the whole merger into question. Lawmakers adjourned the session without voting on the bill, though it may be posted for a vote when they reconvene for a special session on July 8. Though it may have no bearing on Rowan’s incorporation of SOM and the school of public health, no one really knows what the consequences could be.

The vision for Rowan

Rowan’s long-term goal has the college leveraging its new state-awarded research designation to drastically expand its economic power and prestige. Over the next decade, Rowan hopes to double enrollment to 25,000 studentsand add new programs and majors at all levels, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine and business. In conjunction, the school’s decision-makers would like to see its endowment triple to $500 million;the budget increase from $400 million to $1 billion; and research- and sponsored-project revenue quadruple to $100 million.

Once Rowan can reach certain benchmarks along this path, it can apply for the real prize: classification as a national research university from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Only with this accreditation can it hope to attract top-level researchers who will land the school larger federal grants and greater regional recognition.

To prepare for all this anticipated growth, Rowan is making huge capital expenditures. It’s building new structures throughout campus and is spearheading a massive public-private off-campus development project thatbrings student housing, academic space, retail and restaurants and even a hotel to greater downtown Glassboro. The unique arrangement between the college, the town and a master developer is landing Rowan prominent articlesin the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The positive media attention and its nearly uncontested successes have given Rowan reason to modestly acknowledge its accomplishments after a year spent deflecting intense criticism from New Jersey’s academic community over its perceived lack of gravitas. And as July 1 approaches and Rowan inchestoward a higher degree of respect from outsiders, faculty, staff, students and administrators are positioning themselves for the impact.

“We have come a long way,” reflects Rowan spokesman Cardona of the feats he and his co-workers have accomplished in less than one year.

As Rowan’s Houshmand concludes, “It’s a testament to the fact that despite all of the naysayers, Rowan is up to the task.”=

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