What sort of state allows a barely literate thug like Steve Sweeney–with aspirations to the governorship–to intimidate, browbeat and extort a nationally respected institution like Rutgers University? The same state, I guess, that allows Chris Christie, a clownish, dancing governor–dancing just one step ahead of the sheriff–to fly to New Hampshire in the middle of a budget and pension crisis because he pretends he can be president.
“Rutgers has a chance to reform itself or the state will reform Rutgers,” said Sweeney. What arrogance–a riff on Louis XIV’s “L’etat, c’est moi” from someone who, without George Norcross, would be “Steve who?” No, Steve, you are not the state. Must be something in the water coolers in the Statehouse, a sort of political Viagra that swells egos.
Still, the only reason why Sweeney, a union official who hates unions and robs working-class pensioners of their benefits, can smear Rutgers is the abject failure of the university’s administration to stand up to political bullies like him. There are those close to the top of the Rutgers administration who, for years, have collaborated with Sweeney and his master (and Chris Christie’s co-governor) George Norcross–the Boss Tweed of Cherry Hill–to weaken the independence of the university’s governance structure. Those enemies within, some with strong ties to the Republican Party, would have been fired long ago if presidents like Mason Gross and Edward Bloustein were in charge.
Let’s get this straight: Sweeney is not bullying Rutgers and demanding its governing board be further politicized because such changes will enhance the university’s reputation. He is not intimidating the university with ultimatums because he wants Rutgers to be more economically efficient or academically rigorous. He isn’t holding a rusty razor blade to Rutgers’ throat to make its admissions and financial aid policies more equitable. Sweeney isn’t even doing it to improve the university’s athletic teams.
He is not talking about reform. He is talking about pillaging a 250-year-old institution to please the man who yanks his chains. He is doing it to weaken the university further so ultimately it will give in to the demands of the Poobah Norcross to create a rival state university out of Rowan–just, recently, Glassboro State College. And Norcross wants Rowan–undoubtedly some day called Norcross University of the Political Arts–because he is George Norcross and, damn it, he gets what he wants. Even if that means stealing the Lanning Square School, a public school, from the children of Camden so he can have a charter school named after him.
This is payback, ordered by Norcross for a university trustee board that, two years ago, wouldn’t bend to the wishes of the brutish state senate president and the Camden County Machiavelli who holds his leash. Payback–and foreplay–because Norcross won’t stop until someone stops him. And just who would that be? Chris Christie, as US Attorney, contemplated that until he decided Norcross was more useful to him as an ally than as a defendant.
By neutralizing the board of trustees and increasing the number of political appointments to the board of governors, Sweeney will have given New Jersey a politicized state university, just as it has a politicized education department that makes a mockery out of a state public school system that, throughout the nation, was known as one of the best.
Once Rutgers is completely politicized, vultures like Norcross can have easy pickings on the bones of a once proud university. Imagine the patronage possibilities for the Norcross family and his lackeys throughout South Jersey and in the Legislature once Norcross University is established.
What is saddest of all is that those one would expect to be the heroes of this farce hide in the wings and say only polite and reasonable things, afraid of the bullies. What happened to Robert Barchi? Why isn’t he traveling the state arguing the case for the political independence of the state university? C’mon, doc, stop fixing clocks as a hobby–start fixing the relationship between the university and the politicians who pretend to be the state.
Do state officials, including university presidents and education commissioners like David Hespe, undergo some sort of surgery that removes wherever their courage is located before they are allowed to take office? How else can one explain the president of Rowan, still a teacher-training college, giving teacher-hating Christie, Sweeney, and the not-quite-so-evil Norcross twin Donald honorary degrees, all at one, backside-kissing commencement? Norcross’s own private Cooper/medical school/hospital must provide the surgery.
Alas, New Jersey! New Jersey jokes are no longer about Turnpike exits or refineries. New Jersey jokes are the clowns and moral midgets elected to lead us. We are the punch lines. So why isn’t anyone laughing?