May 15, 2013

State Funding for Seminary Project Called Into Question by State Legislature

State funding for the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) came under scrutiny when lawmakers meeting in Trenton for a budget hearing last week, questioned Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks about the religious nature of the institution and the source of the funding.

Last month, Gov. Chris Christie announced $1.3 billion in funding for 176 construction projects at 46 public and private colleges and universities, statewide.

The funding, which is described as the “first concerted contribution to New Jersey’s higher education infrastructure in decades,” will come from $750 million from the Building Our Future Bond Act that New Jersey voters approved in November as well as from four other higher education funding programs: the Higher Education Capital Improvement Fund, the Higher Education facilities Trust Fund, the Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund, and the Higher Education Equipment Leasing Fund.

The New Jersey State Legislature has the power to accept or reject all or any items.

If approved, institutions of higher education in Mercer County will receive more than $95 million for construction projects at the County’s six colleges and universities.

Awards go to public research universities: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (all campuses), $357 million; UMDNJ, $67 million; as well as to public institutions: The College of New Jersey, $57.4 million; Thomas Edison State College, $16.6 million; Mercer County Community College, $9.7 million; and to private institutions: Princeton University, $6.4 million; Rider University, $4.5 million; and Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), $645,323.

Of the $6.4 million that Princeton University will receive, about $3.2 million will help fund construction of the new Andlinger Center, which will support research on sustainable energy development and the environment. The other $3.2 million will fund the renovation of the former Frick Laboratory at 20 Washington Road. The 200,000-square-foot, renovated Frick will house the University’s economics department and also provide space for some of the University’s international initiatives.

Princeton University was not eligible for funding from the higher education bond question in November because of its $17 billion endowment. The funding awarded to the University will come from the Higher Education Capital Improvement Fund.

Rider University’s $4.6 million will go to a new academic structure on the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton that will feature a recital and rehearsal room, lobby, ticket booth, and multimedia classrooms.

The $645,323 award to PTS would be used for technology upgrades at the Luce Library.

According to Secretary Hendricks, the State received more than 250 applications for $2.1 billion in projects from 46 institutions. She described the quality of the applications as “impressive.”

Institutions were required to detail how projects served students and aligned with New Jersey’s workforce needs. The selected projects were those targeting academic programs, especially science, technology, engineering, and math, according to the governor’s office.

At last week’s budget hearing, State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, was among those who flagged the PTS award; questioning the legality of its source in the state’s Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund, which, it appears, can only go to state-funded institutions.

Besides the funding to PTS, an award of $10.6 million to the Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male Orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, was queried; both raising the issue of separation of Church and State.

According to a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, the grant to the seminary is “under review.”

Contacted for a response, on Monday, May 13, The Reverend Dr. M. Craig Barnes said that he was unable to comment. Dr. Barnes has led the seminary since January as its seventh president. A seminary alumnus, he graduated in 1981 with a Master of Divinity in 1981.

In addition to training men and women for the Christian clergy, the Princeton Theological Seminary has non-Christian students and joint degree programs with Princeton University and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Its students are able to take courses at both of these institutions, one public and one private. Its library is open access and is one of only two internet archives with digitized material.

More public discussion is expected.