New Jersey’s two public law schools may be headed toward a marriage.
The deans and faculties of both the Rutgers School of Law–Camden and the Rutgers School of Law–Newark have endorsed a preliminary plan to become a single school with two main campuses.
Newark dean John Farmer Jr. and Camden dean Rayman Solomon presented the concept on February 28 to a committee of the university’s board of governors and received a favorable response. Rutgers president Robert Barchi has also been supportive of the idea.
"We’re better off cooperating with each other rather than competing with each other," Farmer said, noting that many people outside New Jersey don’t realize that the two schools operate independently.
Any merger would require approval by top Rutgers officials and the American Bar Association, and likely would not occur before the 2014 academic year, the deans said.
Students in the merged school would take classes on either campus. The unified school would benefit from close proximity to both the Philadelphia and New York hiring markets, which likely would raise the school’s profile, the deans said.
"If we’re right that the value of a Rutgers law degree will improve, we think that recruiting new students will be easier," Farmer said.
Joining forces would give students more course options; would streamline some administrative functions; and would give the schools more flexibility with faculty, the deans said. The preliminary plan also calls for the use of video technology to allow students on either campus—located about two hours apart by car—to take the same classes in real time.
The schools began exploring the possibility of a merger about two years ago, but that was put on hold in January 2012 when Governor Chris Christie proposed a merger between Rutgers–Camden and nearby Rowan University. Uncertainty over the Camden law school’s future hampered its recruitment efforts last year—prospective students objected to the possibility of winding up with a degree from the more obscure Rowan—at a time when the pool of law schools applicants nationwide declined steeply.
A version of the Rowan merger went through, but it didn’t affect the law school, so the faculties in Camden and Newark renewed their merger talks in October. A faculty committee spent four months examining the concept before both faculty bodies unanimously endorsed it last month, Solomon said.
In some respects, the idea is similar to the way the Pennsylvania State University law school operates. It operates at the main university campus in University Park, Pa., and in Carlisle, Pa., and students can attend classes at either location. Ironically, Penn State officials in November unveiled a plan to separate the two campuses into completely independent law schools after a push to move all 1L courses to University Park riled local elected officials.
There remain details to be worked out before the launch of a unified Rutgers School of Law, both Farmer and Solomon said—such as reconciling slightly different curricula and graduation requirements. But they were confident it is the right move for the schools and their students.
Karen Sloan is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York.