PISCATAWAY, N.J.—Rutgers officially added two medical schools on Monday in a university reconfiguration that officials hope will turn the school into a medical research powerhouse.
The state’s flagship public university absorbed most of the schools and institutes in the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which was dissolved. Rowan University added the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford and received state recognition as a comprehensive research university. University Hospital in Newark became a free-standing state-owned institution.
The changes took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday with modified websites and computer systems. Later in the day, there was pageantry on campuses, including unfurling Rutgers banners in a former UMDNJ building in Piscataway.
“It’s going to grow and expand what is already a very, very good university and today I think is finally on the path to being one of America’ great research institutions,” Gov. Chris Christie said.
The idea of reorganizing New Jersey’s public universities has been debated for years, but Christie pushed for it to happen fast. In less than 18 months, his plan went from proposal to reality. Through the process, Rutgers officials and lawmakers pushed for compromises, most notably stopping Rowan from taking control of Rutgers’ Camden campus.
Christie said the only thing that kept his predecessors from making similar changes was politics.
The overarching goal for Rutgers is to remake a university already recognized as a leader in humanities and social sciences into a hub for medical research and to have it work more closely with the pharmaceutical industry seated in New Jersey.
The hope is to bring research and clinical care together. Already, the merged institutions have started a neuroscience consortium bringing together 350 researchers in various disciplines.
Rutgers President Robert Barchi said the reconfigured Rutgers has more than $700 million in research grants, an increase of about 50 percent and is now among the nation’s top 20 for funding.
“If we don’t make more of out of this than just adding pieces together,” Barchi said, “we’ve failed.”
Barchi, who was hired last year to oversee the merger, is also tasked with coming up with a broader plan for what the university, which now has 33 schools and 65,000 students, will become in the future. His plan is still several months from delivery.
Rowan officials already have a blueprint for changes there, including a call for doubling the number of students over the next decade, taking the Glassboro-based school to 25,000 students, giving southern New Jersey a far bigger university than it has now and, officials hope, making a dent in the 35,000 New Jersey high school graduates who leave the state for college every year.
At the new Rutgers, health sciences faculty and students already have new lab coats with the name “Rutgers” on them and signs on campus have been updated. Scores of legal and financial details also have been worked out.
Among the estimated 4,000 to 5,000 items officials had to work out to make the merger happen, there are still computer systems to merge and university cultures to bring together.
There’s also a major political question.
Last week, Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced a plan to eliminate the 59-member Rutgers board of trustees and give all its powers to the 11-member board of governors.
Many faculty and the trustees themselves have criticized the idea as an illegal power grab, but lawmakers say they expect to meet over the summer to talk about the way the university is governed.