Dear UMDNJ Community:
There has been considerable press coverage recently regarding the proposed merger with Rutgers – initially the New Brunswick components of UMDNJ and now all of UMDNJ. It is important to note that this latest round of proposals reflects an ongoing process since discussions about a reconfiguration of higher education have been going on for a decade. The expressed purpose of the restructuring is to move Rutgers from “good to great” and to enhance New Jersey higher education statewide. But what is pointedly striking about the recent press coverage is the continued use of language such as “scandal plagued, tainted and troubled, debt-ridden, and patronage pit” to describe UMDNJ. These are incessant, unnecessary reminders of past improprieties, and inaccurate and unfair descriptors of the UMDNJ of today.
We are all familiar with the difficult times the University went through between 2005 and 2007. Much of this difficulty resulted from inappropriate health care-related billing and payments at University Hospital. But we are not the UMDNJ of the past. In fact, we have instituted comprehensive systems and safeguards to protect the integrity of the University and of University Hospital (UH). UMDNJ underwent a level of scrutiny that was unparalleled in the history of higher education, ultimately resulting in the implementation of a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) between the University and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. To address similar improprieties, a number of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey and throughout the country have entered into Corporate Integrity Agreements as well. UMDNJ is now in year three of a five-year CIA, at the end of which we will emerge stronger to compete more effectively in the highly regulated health care environment. Yet the derogatory descriptions of UMDNJ persist. These descriptions ignore and diminish the extraordinary work we do on a day-to-day basis. I need only remind you and others that during the past 10-year period of structural uncertainty we have achieved much, including:
- Our clinical sites across the State have provided millions of patient care visits;
- We have saved tens of thousands of lives;
- Our eight schools have graduated over 14,000 students and 4,000 residents now practicing in a wide spectrum of professional and research disciplines;
- We were awarded over $1.28 billion in federal research grants;
- We received over $235 million in industry awards;
- UMDNJ investigators have created 762 novel inventions that have resulted in 435 patents and 24 start-up companies. The licensing of this UMDNJ intellectual property has resulted in over $24 million in licensing revenue;
- The Cancer Institute of New Jersey recently reaffirmed its comprehensive cancer center status for another 10 years, remaining one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the United States;
- The School of Osteopathic Medicine is ranked as one of the top three osteopathic medical schools in the country;
- The Physician Assistant program at the School of Health Related Professions is ranked No. 7 in the country and No. 1 in the eastern part of the United States.
Moreover, hundreds of our discoveries are leading to improvements in health care delivery and interventions. We have developed a new test for tuberculosis, and we have made advances in developing a potential test for Alzheimer’s disease.
While the research earnings at UMDNJ do not allow us to be ranked in the top third of research institutions, we are also not in the bottom third. This is despite the fact that the State of New Jersey is near the bottom of the roster of states in providing financial support to higher education. A review of State appropriations to UMDNJ reveals that the level of State appropriations to the University in 2012 is lower than the appropriations in 2004. Nevertheless, UMDNJ, with its $1.6 billion budget, is a major economic driver for Newark and New Brunswick in particular, and for the State as a whole. UMDNJ employs over 15,000 people, most of whom bring the highest level of dedication, commitment to excellence and integrity to work with them every day. It is completely unfair for the reputation of this entire University and of all of our employees to be sullied by the transgressions of a few in the past. Are we perfect? Of course not. No institution or individual is. UMDNJ does not have a disproportionate number of unethical employees or students.
Nor do we have a disproportionate debt burden. Like all public institutions of higher education, we have borrowed funds through bonding to build state-of-the-art facilities like The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, the UH Ambulatory Care Center, and the New Jersey Medical School-University Hospital Cancer Center. We have invested in our campuses across New Jersey to grow and to meet the academic needs of our students, and the clinical practice and safety standards required for our patients. This is despite the State’s being unable to provide funding for capital improvements during the past decade.
UMDNJ is also challenged because we have the ultimate financial responsibility for University Hospital, New Jersey’s largest safety-net hospital. No other college or university in New Jersey bears the risk or the burden associated with so important a social mission as does UMDNJ. Given our unique role in protecting the life and health of our State’s most vulnerable populations, we have faced unprecedented fiscal challenges over the years. All three major bond rating agencies reference the risk associated with the safety-net mission of UMDNJ and the historic underfunding of indigent care by the State as significant factors in our credit rating.
As most of you know, I have supported changing the name “University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey” to one that more accurately reflects the broad scope of our educational programs and to "rebrand" to meet the challenges of the future. But, in my meetings with faculty, staff and students, I have been surprised by the number of people who oppose a name change. Many cite the name recognition our University has attained within a specific field or discipline and the pride they feel in being part of the UMDNJ family. Indeed, I recently received a letter from one of our students asking me to assure him that, if UMDNJ is merged with Rutgers, his diploma will read “UMDNJ.”
Equally important is to hear the voices of the many employees who support a merger with Rutgers. UMDNJ is a highly diverse institution and we welcome differences of opinion. At the end of the day, I strongly believe that most who work here share great pride in what we do, the difference we make and the lives we change as we continue to carry out our missions.
Whether or not UMDNJ merges with Rutgers, we must not allow the reputation of this University to be debased in this process. Enough already! UMDNJ deserves to be recognized not only for our efforts and success in remedying the problems of the past, but also for our significant achievements in all our fields of expertise and for the tremendous value we add. If UMDNJ does become part of Rutgers, we will enter the merged university as a strong partner - united in our mutual goal to advance higher education across New Jersey, especially the northern region of our State. In fact, it will be the addition of UMDNJ’s valuable portfolio of assets that will make the path to greatness possible and lift Rutgers to a higher echelon as a national university. Our schools and units will form the basis of the health professions education, biomedical research and clinical resources of the proposed merged institutions. By our estimation, if combined with UMDNJ, Rutgers will move from a ranking of 56th to approximately 26th in federal expenditures of research dollars in science and engineering - just behind Northwestern University and Georgia Tech and ahead of the University of Chicago and Emory University. It will also move from approximately 44th place to 21st in the rankings of total research expenditures - just behind the University of California, Davis, and Texas A&M and ahead of MIT and the University of California, Berkeley. Northern New Jersey will gain an even greater powerhouse in the health sciences. Toward this end, we welcome continued discussions regarding a possible merger if the vision presented will make all of the institutions involved go from “good to great.” Furthermore, this combined institution is greatly strengthened by the continued inclusion of the School of Osteopathic Medicine within UMDNJ.
I am proud to work at UMDNJ, and I am proud to work with all of you. Thank you for all you do on behalf of the students we teach and the patients we serve.
Denise V. Rodgers, MD