- Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A reorganization of New Jersey’s higher education system quickly became official a year ago, but some details that go along with it are still raising contention.

The state Senate pushed for changes Thursday to Rutgers University’s governing structure, passing a bill to expand the flagship school’s main governing board, despite strong opposition by campus and alumni groups.

But Senate President Steve Sweeny, a Democrat who is pushing for the governance changes, announced he would delay delivering the bill to the Assembly for three months to give Rutgers time to make its own reforms.

“The proposition is simple: Rutgers has a chance to reform itself or the state will reform Rutgers,” Sweeney said in a statement.

His proposal would expand the powerful Board of Governors from 15 to 19 members. All four additional members would be appointed by the governor. Two would be on recommendation from legislative leaders; two would have to have medical expertise and two would have to be current members of the university’s larger but less powerful Board of Trustees.

Sweeney and other advocates say it’s a way to get more medical expertise on the board of the university a year after it absorbed two medical schools and took on a mission of becoming a biomedical research powerhouse.

Members of both boards have derided the proposal as a power grab by politicians. They say it would give elected officials disproportionate influence over who makes decisions for the school. Currently, seven members are appointed by the Board of Trustees from their own ranks and the other eight are chosen by the governor.

This month, Rutgers released a report produced last year that calls for the size of the Board of Trustees to be reduced from its current 59 voting members to a number in the 36 to 43 range, and to make its committees smaller.

Sweeney said he would be satisfied if Rutgers could adopt the proposals from that report.

On Thursday, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution opposing Sweeney’s bill but committing to review the school’s governance structure. The resolution said the board welcomes dialogue with legislative leaders.

Also, members of university employee unions rallied Thursday in New Brunswick against looming layoffs resulting from Rutgers’ takeover a year ago of New Jersey Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine.

According to the legislation that enabled the merger, no employees could be laid off because of it for a year.

Jean Pierce, a public policy staff member for Health Professionals and Allied Employees said unions have been told more than two dozen workers are facing layoffs so far, and she expects the number to grow. She said labor groups have been meeting with university officials but have not been allowed involvement as promised on layoffs.

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