A New University!

Rowan integrates SOM; becomes state-sanctioned research university.

It felt like the flipping of a switch.

On July 1, as hundreds of students, faculty, staff, dignitaries and well-wishers pulled into the parking lot of the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford they saw so much more than a well-ranked medical school.

Seemingly overnight, they saw Rowan University.

Rowan, which since 1923 has been based in Glassboro but opened a Camden campus in 1969 and an all-new medical school there last year, is now officially in Stratford. And from the brown and gold signage to the lab coat patches to the patrol cars to the police uniforms, it’s impossible to miss.

“Let me just say… we did it!” proclaimed Rowan’s jubilant president, Dr. Ali Houshmand.

Crediting countless work hours by 13 integration teams, Rowan’s Board of Trustees, and, especially, committed legislators and Gov. Chris Christie, Dr. Houshmand said the enabling legislation signed last summer will change New Jersey forever and help the southern part of the state fulfill its destiny.

“I consider myself a positive person,” the president continued, “but to accomplish so much in such a short period of time, I’m absolutely amazed.”

The Act

Supported by a wide southern New Jersey legislative contingent, especially State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act, effective July 1, dismantled the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The act moved UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) to Rowan and most of UMDNJ’s other assets to Rutgers. The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences also became part of Rowan.

The act designated Rowan as New Jersey’s second comprehensive public research university and partnered Rowan and Rutgers-Camden in an all-new College of Health Sciences in Camden. That provision is expected to further drive Camden’s rebirth as a regional science and medical hub, a leader in technology, education and care for the 21st Century.

As RowanSOM joins Cooper Medical School of Rowan University under the Rowan banner, Rowan becomes just the second university in the U.S. to offer both DO and MD degrees.

Citing his reaction to driving in and seeing all the new signage, Dr. Houshmand noted his pride, especially considering the typically slow pace of change in academia.

“But change we did,” he said. “And we did it beautifully.”

Bigger and better

The president’s vision for Rowan centers on growing the University into an educational and economic force to better serve southern New Jersey. It involves doubling the student body to 25,000 in ten years, increasing the University’s endowment to half a billion dollars (it’s $165 million now), and increasing sponsored research from about $23 million to $100 million annually.

Dr. Houshmand cited these goals while noting that Rowan has just hired 62 new tenure-track faculty and kept the cost of undergraduate tuition flat for the 2013-14 academic year.

“We did these things because quality matters,” he said. “Stratford matters. Camden matters. And Glassboro matters.”

Among countless changes made prior to the official integration July 1, replete with a ceremonial unfurling of a new banner, was board action to rename the school Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, or RowanSOM informally.

Dr. Houshmand said none of it would have happened without the support of dedicated legislators including State Sen. Donald Norcross, Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley (whose father, Dr. Joseph Riley, was a founder of SOM), Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, and, especially, Sen. Sweeney, who championed the legislation from inception to the day it was signed.

“Steve, this is your legacy,” Dr. Houshmand said.

Board President Linda M. Rohrer also thanked the attending dignitaries but said the president’s leadership carried the day.

“Ali, none of this would have been possible without you,” she said. “You serve our school well and you make us so very proud.”

Sweeney noted that RowanSOM, which was founded in 1976 as the state’s only school of osteopathic medicine – and remains so today – included in its first class his older brother Bob Sweeney, a successful practicing physician today.

He said as Rowan grows and prospers – in Glassboro, Camden, and, now, Stratford – the entire region will prosper along with it. “Education is the key to a strong economy,” Sweeney said. “And Rowan is going to drive this economy.”

For more information

Listen to a podcast of the July 1 integration ceremony at RowanSOM in Stratford.

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