Reuniting Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School: The Time to Act is Now

Reuniting Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School: The Time to Act is Now

President Richard L. McCormick

For far too long,
medical research and education in New Jersey have fallen short of their potential
for greatness.

is one of the most compelling conclusions in a comprehensive report on the
future of higher education in New Jersey.

visionary report – released this week by Gov. Chris Christie and former Gov.
Thomas H. Kean, who chaired the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education –
recommends an overhaul of medical research and education across New Jersey. Some
of the ideas in the report – including proposals to consider merging medical
training with other higher education institutions in Newark and South Jersey – are
complex and deserve careful deliberation.           

But one major step
toward excellence in medical education can, and should, be implemented
immediately – reuniting Rutgers University with Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
in New Brunswick and Piscataway.

Why? Because virtually
all of the best medical schools in the nation are affiliated with top research
universities, attracting the highest levels of funding for research that
benefits society and bolsters the local economy. Rutgers already brings more
federal research funding to New Jersey than any other university in the state,
and more than all of the state’s other public colleges and universities
combined. But we must do better. 

As the Kean task
force argues in its report, “For a state to be great, it must have a great
state university. … For New Jersey’s students to receive the quality of higher
education they deserve, and for all our citizens to have the economic future we
want, Rutgers must become a great 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.”

Add to those observations the untapped synergy between higher
education and the state’s health care industry and the opportunities are
clear. Reuniting Rutgers with Robert Wood Johnson Medical School would
create an academic powerhouse that would significantly enhance the quality of
New Jersey higher education and would benefit residents across the entire state.

Why now? Because
Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School already have successfully
collaborated for a half-century. Reuniting these world-class institutions can
be easily achieved – providing an immediate boost to New Jersey’s national profile
in teaching and research, and enabling the state’s leaders to focus their
attention on solving higher education’s most chronic problems.

Here’s a little background.
The Rutgers Medical School was formed in 1961 and enrolled its first class in 1966.
Four years later, the medical school was severed from Rutgers and absorbed into
what is now the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The
medical school was renamed after Robert Wood Johnson in 1986.

Since then, political
pressure has squelched efforts to reorganize UMDNJ and reunify Rutgers with
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“The need to
reform medical education in New Jersey, and the institutions that serve it, is
an important public policy and educational issue that has been discussed for
years and left unresolved,” the task force report states. “Resolution of this
serious matter for New Jersey is imperative.”

Despite obstacles, Rutgers and the
medical school already enjoy a highly productive relationship.

Nine medical
school buildings in Piscataway sit on 66 acres of Rutgers-owned property that
we lease to UMDNJ. We jointly manage two of the region’s most successful
research institutes: the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and the
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. The medical school
offers 12 joint programs with Rutgers, leading to advanced degrees in such fields
as biomedical engineering, molecular genetics, health care management and neuroscience.

Fully unifying the medical school’s resources in clinical
studies and public health with Rutgers’ engineering and pharmaceutical programs
would unleash an economic engine that would benefit many core state industries,
including drug development and medical-device manufacturing.

The overhaul of
medical education in New Jersey should not overshadow the task force’s other
significant proposals – including improved governance for higher education, greater
assistance for students in need, and better funding for both the operating
budgets and the capital facilities of the state’s public colleges and

But reuniting
Rutgers University with Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is a critically
important place to start.

As the task force
concludes: “The question is not whether to act, but when. The answer is now.”

For more information, and to read the full report, please click here.

Editor's Note: A version of this appeared in the Sunday, January 9, 2011, edition of The Star-Ledger.

Media Contact: Greg Trevor
732-932-7084 ext. 623