BRIDGEWATER — Republican Gov. Chris Christie shot down the idea of Rutgers-Camden keeping its name after the school merges with Rowan University but said he’s untroubled by private meetings on the college restructuring plan involving the state’s most powerful unelected Democrat.

Christie told reporters after an event at a Jewish community center in Bridgewater on Wednesday that the restructuring of Rutgers, Rowan and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will happen by July 1.

He said he was undeterred by vocal opposition from Rutgers-Camden faculty, students and alumni, who have gathered 13,000 signatures on an online petition to block the merger. Nor was he phased by Tuesday’s report by The Associated Press that South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross III and Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney had met privately with other top Democrats and at least four members of the Rutgers Board of Governors — including Rutgers’ outgoing President Richard McCormick, former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts and Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph Izzo — to try to appease the opposition.

Latest Video

One idea for pacifying opponents is allowing Rutgers-Camden to keep the Rutgers name.

“I’m not going to let anybody keep the Rutgers name unless they’re being governed by Rutgers,” Christie said Wednesday. “So, I’m supporting my plan, we’re going to move forward with my plan and my plan’s going to be implemented. The people at Rutgers-Camden need to get ready for that.”

Christie said he did not know about the meetings among high-level Democrats and Rutgers board members but said he was unconcerned about Norcross being involved in state policymaking discussions.

“The idea that George Norcross is involved in public issues in New Jersey, is that like a news flash to anybody?” Christie asked. “That’s been going on for a decade or more. To the extent George wants to be involved and he provides some type of constructive contribution, I don’t have any problem with it. He isn’t making any decisions.”

The plan has been criticized for removing the ability of South Jersey students to get Rutgers degrees and for diluting Rutgers’ South Jersey brand by merging it with lesser-known Rowan. But proponents applaud the idea of creating a second major research university in the state, this one centered in growing South Jersey.

Some Democrats also have been critical of the plan’s lack of specificity, especially the fact no one knows how much it will cost.

“Costs always have the potential to kill a plan,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, of Wood-Ridge, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, after a Tuesday hearing in which he said he didn’t learn anything new about the price of the proposal.

He and Sen. Teresa Ruiz, of Newark, also expressed concerns about how Newark fares in the deal with the break-up of UMDNJ and operational transfer of the Newark hospital to a nonprofit.

Preliminary estimates put the cost at $40 million to $50 million for Rutgers alone. Debt and bonds already issued add layers of complexity to any plan to blend the school. Rutgers-Camden’s law school accreditation could be jeopardized by a merger, though Christie said recently he thought that could be worked out.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat and a Christie foe, has openly criticized the restructuring.

Last month, he wrote a letter to the U.S. education secretary asking for a federal review of the plan to merge Rutgers-Camden with Rowan, suggesting it was a power grab by Norcross to boost the credit rating of Rowan, which has reached a borrowing limit in its commitment to build the medical school.

Rowan gained a medical school in 2009, when Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature created the school at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and named Rowan as the operator. Its first class will matriculate this fall. Norcross is chairman of the board at Cooper.

Sarlo said Tuesday the reorganization plan isn’t likely to be voted on until after the state budget is adopted June 30. He said meeting Christie’s July 1 deadline would be impossible without cost estimates.

Earlier, Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks told the budget panel the number crunching could take two more months.

Christie, asked the reason for the urgency in getting the merger approved, said, “if you don’t get it done now, we’ll never get it done.”

Never miss breaking news as it happens! Sign up now to receive alerts delivered to your inbox.

Recommended for you

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.