Two unbiased views — still don’t like the Rutgers-Rowan merger

Continuing its coverage of the plan to merge  Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University, NewsWorks pulled together a discussion with higher education experts about impacts of the proposed merger.

WHYY’s Mary Cummings-Jordan moderated the discussion between Aims McGuinness, a senior associate with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) based in Boulder, Colorado and Joni E. Finney, director of the Institute for Research in Higher Education (IRHE) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Following are highlights from the discussion, broken into three parts to match the three audio clips above.

Part I

The timing and proposed July deadline of the Rutgers-Rowan merger

Professor Joni Finney: “I think it’s very hard. The state has yet to pass a budget, and so there are a lot of concerns that have to be worked out between the two complicated institutions to create, in essence, a research university. I think they’ll be hard pressed. If they vote to do it, they can do it on the books, but that doesn’t mean that this merger has actually happened in reality.”

Aims McGuinnes: “This is a long and complicated process. I think you need to think about this in two phases. You could pass or enact something, or at least the framework for a merger, and then set about the process that works out all the details. The reality of the matter is that, when you deal with bringing together two complex institutions, the personnel issues, the student issues, the curriculum issues — these major issues — a merger like this can frankly take you up to five to 10 years.”

The higher-education needs of New Jersey

Professor Joni Finney: “It’s all about working out deals. That’s how the whole thing got started: a deal between a powerful Democrat in the state and a Republican governor. And I think the state needs to step back from this and really look at what does New Jersey need from its higher education system.”

The impact of money

Aims McGuinnes: “Mergers require significant up-front investment and the time to bring these about, and they should be approached thoughtfully, rather than simply by a short term deadline and a mandate without thinking these issues through thoroughly.”

Part II

The proposed merger’s impact on the faculty of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University

Professor Joni Finney: “It’s hard to answer that question absent of some thorough planning and thinking through what a merger would mean.

“… First question is whether it should happen or not and really considering the needs of the state. I think it’s always important for what reasons and how that services the public interest, and I haven’t heard a lot of that in this debate.”

The possibility for higher tuition under a new institution

Dr. Joni Finney: “It’s likely that this merger would result in higher tuition levels comparable to research universities, so I think the students attending this institution would expect tuition increases.”

The Rutgers name v. the Rowan name

Aims McGuinnes: “One should never underestimate the importance of symbols in anything like a merger. This is important for the faculty members at Rutgers and probably important for some of the students, and the connection between perception and reality is really a major gap.”

“… in any merger, whether it’s in health care or something like that, it’s these symbols that do really tear places apart.”

Professor Joni Finney: “I think it would be very hard not to affiliate this institution somehow with the branding with Rutgers. That would make it even more difficult to achieve its goals.”

The impact of a new Rutgers president

Aims McGuinnes: I think it’s important because of Rutgers is really an independently governed institution but I think the president of Rutgers is really important in this, but, I think it’s really important to make these decisions in the interest of the people in New Jersey, not simply by the sum of the institutions interest.”

Part III

Final thoughts

Aims McGuinnes: “How this is perceived outside of New Jersey — people think that this might enhance New Jersey. The reality of the matter is it’s seen as a political circus, and that does very little to enhance the image of higher education in New Jersey and very little to enhance the long-term image of the political leaders.”

Professor Joni Finney: “If this is stopped it will be stopped by the legislature, and I think the chances of that happening look pretty dim. So, I think we’re going to be stuck with a merger that is not thought through, that will diminish resources for students and for other institutions in this state, and a second-rate research university.”

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