Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Rutgers Revamp Clears Senate Panel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Rutgers Revamp Clears Senate Panel

Article excerpt

Lawmakers promised they would deliver the long-awaited cost estimates for the sweeping plan to restructure some of the state's largest public universities, even as the reorganization bill they approved on Thursday continues to change.

Governor Christie continues to push lawmakers to meet his June 30 deadline for setting the plan in motion, despite the lack of an official price tag. Some experts have placed the cost of the reorganization at upward of $1 billion.

Rutgers University would absorb most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey under the bill, which cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee in a 5-0 vote after hours of passionate testimony. The Rutgers campuses in Newark and Camden would become more autonomous from the flagship in New Brunswick. And the Camden campus would be partnered with Rowan University in Glassboro, which would become a research university.

Christie and the bill's supporters say the reorganization would improve medical education and better position the state to attract research funding.

"We're not reaching our full potential as a state system," said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, a co-sponsor of the bill. Having Rutgers absorb the medical university could create a "juggernaut for education and research," Vitale said.

Budget committee meets

Vitale and co-sponsor Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, promised colleagues on the Higher Education Committee on Thursday that cost estimates would be provided by the time the budget committee meets on Monday. They also said revisions are likely to be made to the legislation.

The committee chairwoman, Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said she believed the sponsors would address some of the issues brought up at the hearing.

The panel ignored the pleas of some to put the brakes on the bill, fast-tracked to meet Christie's deadline despite many open questions about the logistics and cost.

Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, made an impassioned plea for his colleagues to hold the bill.

"You're being duped as a committee, and we're being duped as legislators," Rice said. "To move a bill of this magnitude out of this committee to appropriations -- it's going to cost millions or billions -- it doesn't make any sense. …

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