NJ Commission on Higher Education Too Weak to Act but Acknowledges Fixes Needed

On December 14, 2007, the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, which the State Commission on Investigation’s report referred to as a “toothless shell”, did the expected and, in spite of describing itself as “the principal advocate for an integrated system of higher education” concluded that “we do not believe that it is in the best interest of the state to pursue any major changes to the existing higher education governance structure”.  You might be thinking “Whitewash!” at this point. 

But wait, even though the commissioners are essentially beholden to the Governor, must work with the “President’s Council” (the fox guarding the higher education henhouse) and must have been heavily pressured to poo-poo the SCI Report, a la President McCormick, they really didn’t. 

In cautious language they called for, among other things, empowering the State Office of Controller to monitor higher education adherence to Sarbanes-Oxley financial and accounting standards and having the President and Chief Financial Officer certify financial statements as in public companies.  The Commission on Higher Education also called for a “Defining and Codifying State College and University Charters for Maximum Performance” by requiring “necessary oversight and adherence to the state college and university guidelines and controls while preserving the well-understood benefits of an autonomous, locally-controlled system”.  One might read as “this mess has got to be straightened out without losing the beneficial elements of autonomy and local control”.

The Commission’s response to the SCI report is far too weak but the Commission is designed to be weak.  It is the students and parents who bear the increased tuition, labor for years to pay large student loans and suffer because of class section cuts, program eliminations and instructor layoffs, the alumni who can’t be confident that their donations will be properly used and accounted for and the taxpayers who New Jersey views as a blank check that will have to move the Governor and the Legislature to make higher education accountable. 

Rutgers must be integrated into New Jersey’s higher education system and compelled to answer to State overseers without  eliminating the beneficial aspects of autonomy and control.  The State must insure that Rutgers students, parents, alumni and taxpayers are getting what they are paying for.

(Click here to view Wayne Bryant’s indictment)