Students and community members chanting and waving signs outside the fine-arts building on Rutgers Camden campus Thursday did not call the proposed relationship with Rowan University a merger — they called it a takeover.
“Rowan is the college that is going to benefit from this,” said Lauren Hill, a senior art student from Pennsauken, N.J., and one of the students chanting “We are Rutgers, not Rowan.”
“It’s in my head that we might not pull through this, but at least we’re going down fighting,” Hill said. “We’re not just going to step back and say ‘go ahead, take our school.'”
Inside, at a public meeting about the proposal, students, alumni and staff packed a 600-seat auditorium and overflowed into another viewing room. Rutgers-Camden chancellor Wendell Prichett got a loud round of applause when he introduced himself.
“I’m the chancellor of Rutgers Camden,” he said. “And I am opposed to the takeover of my campus.”
The higher-education restructuring plan, introduced last month, is backed by Gov. Chris Christie. In North Jersey, the state medical school UMDNJ would be folded into Rutgers. In South Jersey, the plan calls for combining Rutgers-Camden, including its law and business schools, into Rowan University.
Supporters of the plan say creating a comprehensive research university in South Jersey, including Cooper Medical School set to open in September, will attract federal grant money and create jobs.
But the crowd at the public meeting saw it as a loss of identity, and a costly one at that.
“Changing the name of Rutgers, which is a brand name that’s known throughout the world, would be considered a joke in the business world,” said alum Steve Geonnotti. “It’s equivalent to this: an executive from Procter & Gamble standing up at a meeting and saying ‘I think we should change the name of Crest and Tide today.'”
New Jersey sends 30,000 more college students out of state to study each year than it attracts. That imbalance is more than twice as big as any other state, according to 2008 numbers. The reorganization is meant to strengthen the state’s public institutions, but Rutgers-Camden alum Zachary Matusheski said if the plan goes through, it will do just the opposite.
“I think that there would be a severe brain loss in this area, because you’d have a choice of Rowan or nothing,” Matusheski said. “I think we’d lose a lot of really talented students to Philadelphia.”
The New Jersey Senate’s Higher Education Committee will hold a hearing on the restructuring plan Monday in Trenton.