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Rutgers University Senate begins reviewing potential medical school merger

Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom said the merge would increase rankings.  – Photo by Courtesy of LaCarla Donaldson

The Rutgers University Senate Executive Committee voted on Feb. 7 to begin reviewing a potential merger of Rutgers’ two medical schools that would spread across two cities 30 miles apart.

Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) Chancellor Brian Strom proposed the merger in a  letter to the University Senate using the tentative name “Rutgers Medical School,” on Jan. 31. The merger would see an integration of research, education and clinical care between the current medical schools under one governance structure, according to an article from NJ Spotlight.

The merger would position Rutgers as a national leader by increasing the schools’ rankings, Strom said. He said the schools are currently dividing National Institutes of Health funding between them, which affects the current ranking. 

Strom also said multiple research funding agencies are more interested in the two medical schools combined than individually.

“A transformational change like this would be a great target for fundraising,” Strom said.

The merger as a model would be unprecedented and would likely attract clinical research opportunities, according to a report from the Future of Academic Medicine (FAM) Committee, formed last year from faculty in each medical school. Significant institutional investment and commitment as well as cooperation from all involved parties would be required, according to the report.

The Newark community is concerned about having its New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) or University Hospital removed or altered, according to the report. Strom said that any recommendation of a merger from the FAM Committee had to involve two co-equal campuses.

The American Association of University Professors of the Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey (AAUP-BHSNJ), which represents the faculty of both medical schools, expressed similar concern in a public statement. The FAM Committee consists of mostly Rutgers faculty administrators, suggesting a lack of input from stakeholders, according to the statement.

"We are disappointed that the Committee, as the Chancellor configured it, does not include more faculty members who were nominated by the RBHS Faculty Council, the NJMS Faculty Organization and the (Robert Wood Johnson Medical School) Faculty Council," according to the statement.

Strom's letter to the University Senate said committee member selection took place after nominations from said faculty councils. Eight of the 12 committee members were recommended by one or more of these faculty organizations, according to the letter.

It is premature to go through with a merger at this time, according to the AAUP-BHSNJ statement. Rutgers' partnership with RWJBarnabas Health in 2018 is just one of many changes the faculty are currently dealing with, according to the AAUP-BHSNJ statement.

"Further concurrent change would be unsettling, destabilizing and demoralizing to the faculty," according to the statement.

Diomedes Tsitouras, executive director of AAUP-BHSNJ, said Rutgers also has yet to smooth out the 2013 merge of most schools from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) into Rutgers that led to it acquiring the two medical schools. 

“It was done because they thought it would help Rutgers gain in its research, stature and other things," he said. "But still to this day, there's still a lot of divisions that exist because they haven't completely merged and unified everything from that merger.”

Tsitouras said that new employee orientations still label faculty positions as legacy Rutgers positions or legacy UMDNJ positions. There are also legacy UMDNJ policies, he said.

Many parts of the two medical schools have already merged, according to Strom. He said that many departments share a single chair between the schools, continuing medical education already merged and graduate medical education is merging across the state, including both medical schools.

If the University Senate approves the proposal, the final decision will go to the Liaison Council on Medical Education. Strom said that this would happen sometime next year.

Each Senate standing committee will examine Strom’s proposal and engage in discussion and questioning over the next several months, Senate Chair Jon Oliver said. 

The Senate has eight standing committees, including the Executive Committee, the latter which will send a recommendation for approval or otherwise to the Senate for debate and voting.

“It is in everyone's interest to achieve clarity on the best way forward as soon as possible,” Oliver said. “We will be as timely(,) as thorough discovery, discussion and deliberation of this very important issue allows.”

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