How To Wreck a Public University: Chris Christie Knows
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s name keeps surfacing, for his routinely bombastic sound bites and the possibility that he could be the GOP Vice-Presidential choice. New Jersey Democrats, summoned to hie themselves to Trenton just before the July 4th holiday for a special legislative session, gave the eyeball roll to Christie’s 17-minute plea to accept a compromise 10 percent income tax cut. As NJ.com observed, Democratic legislators described “the session as a stunt intended to increase [Christie's] YouTube hits and bolster his national credentials eight weeks before the Republican National Convention in Tampa.”
That is a straightforward read on the session and not unlikely. As the New York Times points out, most Jerseyans would prefer a cut in property taxes, rather than the income tax Christie says is key to attracting jobs to the state for the “New Jersey comeback.”
To no one’s surprise, Christie also offered a conditional veto of a “millionaire’s tax,” which would mean an increase in the tax rate for the state’s 16,000 residents who earn more than $1 million. As Louis D. Greenwald of Camden County, the leader of the Democratic majority in the Assembly, said “The only consistency Governor Christie shows is his devotion to protecting the mega-rich.”
(But reproductive health and family planning services? Just shut up already.)
Christie’s other preoccupation has been to take care of his friends. There’s the for-profit prison company whose executive is his close political advisor and former law partner, William J. Palatucci. Somehow, this very company, Community Education Centers, holds extensive contracts to run a system of halfway houses which have been plagued by escapes and reports and sexual abuse of residents.
There is also the extremely controversial merger of Rutgers University-Camden, part of New Jersey’s state university system, and Rowan University. Just a decade ago, Rowan University was Glassboro State College; it was renamed Rowan College after a businessman, Henry M. Rowan, gave the school $100 million and then won university status in 1997.
You could say that Rowan bought himself a university. Now another New Jersey businessman, political boss and Christie ally George Norcross, is at it again.
While the distinctions between one sort of university and another may seem “academic,” there are differences. Rutgers-Camden is classified as a research university, with access to funding from, for instance, the federal government and certain requirements for faculty’s academic credentials and research output. Rowan University is a former teaching training institution with, as NJ.com columnist Bob Braun puts it, “aspirations” of becoming what Christie and Norcross say will be ”major public research university.”
Rutgers-Camden has a lot to lose in its academic reputation and prestige by the forced marriage, um, merger. Rowan has much to gain, as does Norcross who is surely finessing his plans to draw on public funds that “he believes he needs to keep afloat an ill-conceived medical school he began in Camden.”
You read that right: The merger is happening so a Christie ally can get his very own “major public university.”
On Monday night, Christie hailed the merger as ”historic reorganization” of higher education. While he seems adept at winning over GOP supporters across the land, no one in New Jersey is fooled by what the “reorganization” means.
When will the rest of the country wise up to what Jerseyans know too well?
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Photos of protest against the merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University by Ian Kahn