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N.J. Democrats Say Agreement Reached on College Overhaul

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, legislative leaders and the board of Rutgers University reached consensus on a revised plan to restructure the state’s higher-education system, two Democratic senators said.

The agreement calls for Rutgers, the state’s largest university, to take over the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the state-run medical school. It doesn’t include Christie’s plan to fold Rutgers’s Camden campus into Rowan University to create a large research institution in southern New Jersey.

Christie, a first-term Republican, supports the compromise, Democratic Senators Joseph Vitale of Woodbridge and Donald Norcross in Camden said today at a press conference in Trenton. Vitale leads the Senate Health Committee. Norcross is brother of George E. Norcross, a Democratic party leader in southern New Jersey and chairman of Cooper Hospital in Camden, who has pushed for a university overhaul in his region.

Christie, 49, has been urging lawmakers to approve a university reorganization by July 1, saying it would help make New Jersey a national leader in medical education and research.

The merger involving Rowan had encountered opposition from staff at Rutgers, who said it was being proposed for political reasons and would have weakened the school’s brand recognition. In March, a group of students and faculty presented lawmakers with 11,000 signatures opposing the move.

Delay Sought

Last week, at least 10 Democratic lawmakers said they might withhold support for the state budget unless Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver agreed to delay voting on the university mergers. They later relented; all Democrats voted on June 25 in favor of a $31.7 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Christie hasn’t yet signed the budget. He has said Democrats’ spending plan holds “tax relief hostage” because it would delay a tax cut until midway through the fiscal year, to see if revenue growth meets the governor’s targets.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, said the university legislation involved “moving pieces” and declined to comment in it until after the Senate and Assembly votes, which are scheduled for later today.

Under the new agreement, Rutgers-Camden and Rowan will cooperate on their health-sciences curriculum, while maintaining separate campuses and trustees, Vitale said.

The Rutgers Board of Governors adopted a resolution today that supports the plan “in general.” The school agreed to an effective date of July 1, 2013, for the legislation, which would allow time to study the merger before voting on it, according to an e-mailed statement from Greg Trevor, a Rutgers spokesman.

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