January 4, 2011
Members of the Rutgers Community:
Yesterday, governor Chris Christie released the report of the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force, a group he established last May to examine the key issues facing the state’s colleges and universities. During the task force’s seven months of work, executive vice president Phil Furmanski and I had the opportunity to meet with every member of the task force, including its chair, former governor Tom Kean. We know that they took their mandate seriously and saw as their singular goal the enhancement and elevation of higher education in the state.
This exceptional report makes bold recommendations in areas ranging from governance to financing and affordability to economic growth and workforce development, with specific recommendations about enhancing Rutgers in its role as the state university. Arguing that declining state support has hurt New Jersey’s colleges and universities, the report declares that “a long period of inadequate state investment must now be stopped and reversed.” Among its many noteworthy recommendations, the report proposes establishment of a secretary of higher education, reporting directly to the governor, and a five-member Governor’s Higher Education Council.
The report calls particular attention to the demanding responsibilities placed on Rutgers, New Jersey’s only comprehensive public research institution. It observes that “for a state to be great, it must have a great state university.” To achieve that goal, the authors of the report include nine recommendations that are specific to Rutgers, and issue a “call to action” to university and state leaders to work together to make Rutgers “among the best research universities in the country, indeed in the world.” At Rutgers, we embrace that challenge.
I want to highlight especially the recommendation to reunite Rutgers and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS), which could have the single biggest impact on the university and the state of any proposal contained in the report. Virtually every prominent medical school in the nation is affiliated with a top research university, and universities that are affiliated with medical schools attract the highest levels of research funding. Reuniting Rutgers with RWJMS would bring enormous benefits to the institution, including placing Rutgers in the top ranks of all American universities in total research funding. I have been vocal in calling for such a bold step, as I believe Rutgers would be far stronger with a medical school and better able to attract top faculty and students, develop nationally acclaimed multidisciplinary initiatives, and bring jobs to our state.
While acknowledging New Jersey’s current fiscal troubles, the task force report also calls for increased operating support, a revolving fund for critical capital needs, and ultimately a major higher education bond issue, to be implemented as soon as the state’s financial picture improves. In addition, it urges ending state-imposed tuition caps, increasing scholarship support, strengthening collaborations with New Jersey businesses, and reestablishing the Commission on Science and Technology. You can view the document, and my initial public statement about the report, at higheredtaskforce.rutgers.edu.
I am pleased that Governor Christie is giving the report careful consideration and note that he has already signed executive orders to create the Governor’s Higher Education Council and an advisory committee to develop recommendations on graduate medical education.
This outstanding report presents the most comprehensive and visionary analysis of New Jersey higher education that I have seen. The recommendations have hugely important implications for the future direction and excellence of the university. The entire Rutgers community–including our governing boards, my administration, and our faculty, staff, students, and alumni–will need to discuss these recommendations with the care and urgency that they deserve.
I look forward to our discussions and to hearing your thoughts and observations.
Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey