Two Senate Democrats Call For Umdnj Merger Action

TRENTON – Two Senate Democrats, Raymond J. Lesniak and Joseph F. Vitale, today called for the creation of a joint Task Force to recommend the best way to restructure the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with Rutgers University by the end of this year.

“Herb Stern is trying to breathe life into a corpse,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union, about the federal monitor, former U.S. District Court Judge Herbert J. Stern, who has been overseeing the State’s scandal-plagued medical university. “UMDNJ needs to be totally restructured now if it is going to emerge as a nationally prominent research and teaching facility. Worrying about who is going to be its next president is really just tinkering.”

Sens. Lesniak and Vitale said Governor Corzine, Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts should create a joint task force to study two merger options: joining Rutgers and UMDNJ and pooling resources to maximize research and academic potentials, or, combining Rutgers Newark with the UMDNJ campus in Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology and then join the UMDNJ facilities in Stratford and New Brunswick with the Rutgers campuses in Camden and New Brunswick.

“Our goal is to restore credibility to UMDNJ which, under its current administrative structure, is beyond repair,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “The future of health care education in New Jersey is at grave risk unless we act promptly and decisively. Every nationally recognized medical school and research facility is an integral part of a top-flight academic university. As a unified entity, it will compete for the best faculty, students, researchers, scientists and financial resources.”

“The stark reality is that the administration of UMDNJ is too far gone, credibility-wise and management-wise, to continue standing alone,” Senator Lesniak said. “Its merger with Rutgers facilities under a limited number of options will re-invigorate its faculty, its research capabilities and its student body.”

Senator Lesniak said he was moved to speak out today after reading a report in The Star-Ledger in which he viewed Judge Stern as prodding UMDNJ board chairman Robert Del Tufo to select a new president.

“It will be a lot easier to attract a top-notch professional to lead UMDNJ once a new structure is in place,” Senator Lesniak said. “The linkup of research and academic and financial resources will attract scholars, researchers and students.”

Senators Lesniak and Vitale said details of the task force could be worked out by staffs of the three top government leaders with the goal of producing merger legislation to be voted on before the end of this year.

“The task force would recommend the best option to the Legislature and we should review it and vote on subsequent legislation to enact it before the end of this year,” Senator Lesniak said.

Senator Lesniak said the 2002 Vagelos Report, which first recommended the merger of UMDNJ, Rutgers and NJIT, could serve as a starting point for re-visiting the merger options. He said he agrees with Sen. Vitale who stressed that the 2006 task force should be “more focused and less expansive” than the Vagelos Report.