Fiscal Mismanagement Plagues
Top Producer of Minority Physicians
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to be federally monitored for two years.
By Dana Forde
For years, it remained one of New Jersey’s best-kept secrets. But for young minority students interested in medicine and dentistry, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey had a solid reputation for being the place to study.
UMDNJ had an excellent track record for graduating Black, Hispanic and
Asian students and had pumped real resources into luring some of the
nation’s brightest students away from the country’s more prestigious and well-known medical schools.
But massive layoffs and fiscal mismanagement have led to the Newark-based university being placed under a federal monitoring program, leaving some minority students, like Omar Delaney, wondering if they should even apply.
A native of Camden, N.J., Delaney has long had his sights set on studying at the nation’s largest public health sciences university. But now he’s applying to Howard University’s medical school instead.
“I want my degree to matter,” he says. “If the school is having financial problems and there are reports of mismanagement, that would ultimately depreciate my degree and my training.”
University officials downplay the worries, pointing out that, outside of historically Black colleges and universities, UMDNJ produces more minority physicians than any institution in the country.
But the 51-year-old university, which enrolls 4,500 students and employs 11,000 people throughout five campuses, still has a long way to go before it emerges from its financial problems. Recently, the institution announced the layoffs of 120 employees, on top of the 100 positions previously eliminated through layoffs and unfilled vacancies. Many of those let go are minorities. According to interim president Bruce Vladeck, the layoffs were needed to close a $25.5 million deficit in the university’s $1.6 billion annual budget.
A report earlier this year revealed years of rampant financial abuse at the state school. Administrators acknowledged earlier this year that they overcharged Medicaid by $4.9 million, though a federally appointed monitor says the overbilling could have topped $100 million. The report also charged that members of the university’s board of trustees used their positions to secure jobs for relatives.
On Dec. 30, 2005, a federal judge ordered a review of the university’s financial transactions and appointed former prosecutor and judge Herbert J. Stern to monitor the records. Stern immediately launched 27 separate investigations and noted that excessive funds were used
to host holiday parties and to hire political lobbyists.
But Stern has come under scrutiny himself after he charged the state $5.8 million for his first six months on the job.
John Inglesino, an attorney who works with Stern, says the investigation into the university thus far has revealed $243 million worth of financial mismanagement or outright fraud.
School officials have agreed to be monitored for two years in exchange
for immunity by federal prosecutors. According to Inglesino, UMDNJ has hired a compliance officer who will be able to assist Stern in monitoring the financial records of the school. The compliance officer will report directly to the school’s board of trustees. Inglesino also says that in the past the school did not have a compliance component to check its billing and financial practices.
“Once those pieces are in place, there will be a substantial reduction in the monitor’s role,” Inglesino says. “This will hopefully ensure that a federal monitor will no longer be needed at UMDNJ.”
In the meantime, Jane Oates, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, a state-funded agency that makes recommendations to the governor on issues related to the state’s higher education system, is upbeat about the school’s future. She says the financial problems have not affected the school’s national reputation.
“High quality has been there for a long time,” she says, noting that the UMDNJ board of trustees is currently searching for a permanent president to replace Vladeck, who was appointed in March 2006.
The search for a new president is being headed by Dr. Harold T. Shapiro, who served as president of Princeton University from 1987-2003.
According to Oates, a proposal made by former Gov. James E. McGreevey to merge UMDNJ with Rutgers University is being reexamined by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.
Despite reservations by some minority students over the university’s current financial situation, the interest in UMDNJ by minority students remains strong, says Dr. Glenn Lang, executive director of the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund, an arm of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. For example, he says, the school provided up to 48 Martin Luther King Medical and Dentistry scholarships to cover tuition costs last year.
According to Diverse’s 2006 Top 100 Graduate degree rankings, UMDNJ awards more medical degrees to minorities than any other institution and is 19th in the awarding of First Professional degrees in dentistry.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com