Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Rutgers board plans to fight governance change

At an emergency meeting Friday, Rutgers University´s board of trustees pledged to try to persuade lawmakers not to adopt a bill to shake up the university´s governance and suggested taking legal action if the bill did become law. (AKIRA SUWA  /  Staff Photographer, file )
At an emergency meeting Friday, Rutgers University's board of trustees pledged to try to persuade lawmakers not to adopt a bill to shake up the university's governance and suggested taking legal action if the bill did become law. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer, file )
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - At an emergency meeting Friday, Rutgers University's board of trustees pledged to try to persuade lawmakers not to adopt a bill to shake up the university's governance and suggested taking legal action if the bill did become law.

Trustees president Dorothy Cantor called the bill under consideration by the Legislature a "power grab" that would give politicians greater control of the makeup of the flagship state university's governing board.

The bill was introduced in March but did not get much attention until a newspaper article about it this week. In fact, Rutgers officials said they had not heard about it.

The measure would expand the university's powerful board of governors to 19 voting members from 15.

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  • Currently, seven are appointed by the larger but less-powerful board of trustees from its own members. The other eight are designated by the governor with consent of the state Senate.

    The new plan is sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both Democrats. Under the proposal, the governor would get two additional selections without needing the Senate's approval. The Senate president and Assembly speaker each would be allowed to recommend a member to the governor.

    The upshot is that politicians would have a greater majority of appointments.

    The university's top lobbyist, Pete McDonough, said that he had been told the bill was to be amended to require all four new positions to be filled by people with medical backgrounds and that two of them would be Rutgers alumni.

    That squares with a major shift at Rutgers. The university last year absorbed two medical schools as part of a reorganization of the state's higher-education structure, and it's now focusing on trying to become a biomedical-research powerhouse.

    But Cantor said there were other ways to add people with medical expertise.

    "I can't help but wondering if there was sincerely a need for this, there would have been four more," she said, "two political appointees and two trustees."

    University officials say Rutgers' chief lawyer is looking into whether the Legislature could legally change the board makeup without the trustees' consent.

    The Senate's higher-education committee is scheduled to consider the bill at a hearing Monday.

    In the meantime, the Rutgers alumni association e-mailed all 200,000 of its members who live in New Jersey, telling them to press the subject. By midday Friday, university officials said, about 8,500 alumni had e-mailed lawmakers to oppose the change.

    A faculty union also opposes the change, as does Robert Williams, a Rutgers-Camden law professor, who sent an e-mail questioning its legality.

    Alumni pressure in 2012 was a major reason Rutgers' Camden campus did not become part of Rowan University in a higher-education reorganization that took effect last year.

    Geoff Mulvihill Associated Press
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