Op-Ed: The New Rutgers Will Benefit Entire State

As published in The Home News Tribune and The Daily Record on July 9, 2013

By Robert L. Barchi, President, Rutgers University

Accompanied by great fanfare — including the ringing of bells and unfurling of banners — Rutgers University celebrated the formal integration of most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) on July 1. Gov. Christie hailed this historic event as an opportunity to change higher education in New Jersey, saying that Rutgers is “on the path to becoming one of America’s great research universities.” And former governor Tom Kean, who chaired the Higher Education Task Force and took part in the celebrations, predicted earlier that the integration will “take Rutgers from where it is now, which is good, and make it great.”

That’s important for Rutgers, but what does it mean for New Jersey? What does it mean for you? Does it really matter to your family that the signs on the medical buildings in Newark and Piscataway will now carry the Rutgers name?

If the signage throughout the state was the only thing that changed, none of this would be worth the effort. The integration of UMDNJ and Rutgers will completely restructure higher education in the state, helping to attract the finest faculty and the best and brightest students. Moreover, the impact of the integration extends far beyond education: it will transform research and health care delivery in New Jersey.

We are combining the former UMDNJ schools, clinical practices, and centers and institutes with related longstanding Rutgers entities, such as our schools of pharmacy and nursing, to form an academic powerhouse: Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. The collaborations between these outstanding faculties, and their interaction with faculty in the life sciences, law, philosophy and other disciplines, will enrich not only our biomedical units, but also the rest of the university. And as Rutgers assumes a leadership role in the health sciences, our university’s enhanced reputation will make a Rutgers degree even more valuable to our 450,000 alumni, the majority of whom live in New Jersey.

In addition to providing the finest, cutting-edge graduate opportunities, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences offers a broad range of undergraduate programs, creating a truly comprehensive research university. With so many new options, students have an even greater ability to begin their undergraduate studies on one career path, and end up somewhere completely different. And our exciting new joint degree programs will enable students to tailor their undergraduate experience according to their own interests and passions – and according to contemporary industry trends. Perhaps most importantly, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences will provide even more opportunities for students to work in research-intensive settings, so they can experience the exhilaration of research during their undergraduate careers.

A state university with a medical division is nothing new; in fact, most large state universities have academic medical centers. Indeed, that’s just the point: until now, New Jersey struggled to compete with other states for federal funding from granting agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In fact, Rutgers and UMDNJ were often competing for the same funds, resulting in both losing out. The new Rutgers is much better positioned to receive funding for life-changing research in cancer, autism, nutrition and other critical areas.

The integration will also create a comprehensive research institution that will encourage public-private partnerships that generate jobs and economic benefits as well as improved health care delivery. At the new Rutgers, it is now much easier to take research from the lab, move it through clinical trials and place the results in a doctor’s hands to administer potentially life-saving treatment.

With a more coordinated and research-enhanced program, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences is going to not only improve health care delivery for New Jersey residents, but also accelerate the discovery of better treatments and new cures for intractable diseases and illnesses.

The process of integrating our systems is far from complete, and it will take years, not months, to reap the full benefits, even with the generous assistance of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s recent $12.5 million grant for implementation. But it will happen. And it will mean better health care delivery for the patients in our clinical practices, greater opportunities to translate our research into new medical breakthroughs and a much stronger partnership between Rutgers and the pharmaceutical, biotech and other health care companies that are so vital to the state’s economy.

Better health care, more jobs and a stronger state university benefit everyone in New Jersey. That’s what the new Rutgers means for you.