A 'secret' storm

Rowan began to plan how best to market a merger with Rutgers-Camden months before Gov. Christie’s commission made its controversial recommendation to unite the two universities.

Merger opponents point to what until recently was a little-publicized consultant’s report as evidence Rowan knew the score before Rutgers-Camden had a clue.

"The report says nothing about educational policy or the merits of (a merger)...it's a description of how to avoid talking about issues by distracting the conversation entirely into the realm of future grandiose promises," Andrew Shankman, a Rutgers-Camden associate professor of history, says via email.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, also has seized on the report -- which focuses on massaging public opinion, rather than pedagogy -- saying it "shows that the fix was in long before the merger was even presented to the public.” 

Not so, says Joe Cardona, Rowan's director of media and public relations. 

“There is no ‘secret’ report,” he tells me. “We were doing research and preparing for a merger that might come. It was no different than Rutgers-New Brunswick hiring a mergers and acquisition consultant last fall.”

The cost of the $30,000 report by the Learning Alliance for Higher Education, which is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, was "split 50-50" between Rowan and Cooper University Hospital, Cardona says. The two institutions already are partnered in a new medical school, set to open in downtown Camden later this year.

"The frustrating thing about this is, people talk about this merger as if it came out of thin air," Cardona adds. "It was being publicly discussed. There were stories in the papers last fall, including yours.

"It was no secret."