In a year marked by the promise of our $1 billion fundraising campaign and by more than the usual number of academic achievements by our faculty and students, Rutgers received another major boost from the report of the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force, led by former governor Thomas H. Kean. The Kean report, which argues for a reversal of “a long period of inadequate state investment,” is the most visionary plan for higher education that New Jersey has seen in the past quarter century. Its most compelling recommendation would have a transformative effect on our university and greatly benefit New Jersey: merging Rutgers with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) in New Brunswick and Piscataway and the School of Public Health, both currently part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).
Virtually all of the best medical schools in the nation are affiliated with top research universities, and most of the very best public research universities have academic medical centers. This fact holds particular relevance for New Jersey, where health-related industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical-device manufacturing are central to the economy. In part because of our relationship with these industries, Rutgers brings more federal research funding to New Jersey than all of the state’s other public colleges and universities combined. But we must do better.
The Kean report argues, “For a state to be great, it must have a great state university … Having a medical school would help Rutgers attract top-flight researchers, increase federal research grants, and create exciting interdisciplinary opportunities among Rutgers’ distinguished academic departments.”
RWJMS began as the Rutgers Medical School but was absorbed into what is now UMDNJ in 1970. Although political pressure has squelched reunification proposals over the years, the medical school and Rutgers enjoy a highly productive relationship. We jointly offer 12 advanced-degree programs, in fields such as biomedical engineering and neuroscience, and two outstanding institutes, the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made clear that he believes in the power of our colleges and universities to spark economic growth, prepare a 21st-century workforce, and address urgent state problems. I am encouraged by the strong endorsement he and his administration have given the Kean report, and in Trenton and around New Jersey, I have been strongly advocating for an idea whose time has come. Reuniting Rutgers with the medical school would create an academic powerhouse that would benefit the entire state. From all I have heard, the faculty of RWJMS agree and are exceedingly interested in joining their Rutgers colleagues.
New Jersey has the potential for entering a new age of excellence and achievement in higher education—with a truly great state university that includes an outstanding medical school.