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Christie signs higher ed reform bill, ushering in new era for Rutgers

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    Chris Christie, left, and Stephen Sweeney chat at the Rutgers bill signing this afternoon. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)
    Chris Christie, left, and Stephen Sweeney chat at the Rutgers bill signing this afternoon. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

    The higher education reorganization compromise that's taken decades to be hammered into its current form at last becomes law today.

    Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Rutgers University's New Brunswick campus this afternoon to sign a law that will merge most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers' Piscataway/New Brunswick and Newark campuses and the School of Osteopathic Medicine into Rowan University, in Glassboro. Rowan and Rutgers-Camden will form a partnership in life sciences education and research.

    "I never thought that the people of the Legislature would drop the ball on this," Christie said. "Once we saw the things were that heated, we knew we were onto something," he added, referring to the debates in Camden on the original proposal to merge Rutgers–Camden into Rowan.

    Christie said Rutgers now has "all the things that make a top-flight state university" with the addition of the medical school, dental school, nursing school and public health school. The governor also said the legislation will help Rutgers compete for students and federal dollars, and will create economic opportunities.

    He said feedback from the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries on the plan was very positive, as now clinical trials and research can be accomplished at one school.

    The higher education restructuring bill still has unanswered questions, including the cost of the effort and what will happen to University Hospital, a safety-net facility in Newark.

    Christie said that the bill is helpful, but won't be as powerful as possible without the bond measure passing this fall. He did indicate, though, that $540 million in higher education bonds that were authorized previously will be issued to help implement the transition this fall.

    Rutgers, UMDNJ and other key players already have indicated that transition teams have been formed, and are ready to begin phases of implementation. It is expected that Rutgers will be able to take on the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in New Brunswick, and the New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, by July 2013.

    "I love this state and I love Rutgers," Christie said, talking about his father's experience as a student at the school. "Rutgers provided him that opportunity, and gave him a great career."

    Christie also was scheduled to visit Rutgers' Camden campus later this afternoon for a ceremonial bill signing.

    State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) was among the dignitaries who attended the event. He called the bill signing a "legacy moment" for the state, adding that, while pushing the legislation forward was difficult, he "wasn't going to back down, because it was the right thing to do."

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