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Coalition of Concerned Nurses v. New Jersey Department of Higher Education

Decided: July 31, 1990.

COALITION OF CONCERNED NURSES, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HIGHER EDUCATION, NEW JERSEY BOARD OF HIGHER EDUCATION, NEW JERSEY STATE BOARD OF NURSING, AND UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND DENTISTRY OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENTS



On appeal from New Jersey Board of Higher Education and New Jersey State Board of Nursing.

Dreier and D'annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'annunzio, J.A.D.

D'annunzio

The issue in this accelerated appeal is whether the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (University) is statutorily authorized to confer an Associate of Science degree with a major in nursing. The degree is to be conferred jointly with Middlesex County College (MCC) pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding between MCC and the University. Appellant and the amicus, New Jersey State Nurses Association, contend that N.J.S.A. 18A:64G-3.2 (hereinafter § 3.2) prohibits the University from conferring undergraduate degrees. Section 3.2 provides:

It is declared to be the public policy of the State that the use of the title university by the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey does not imply a future change in its institutional mission to permit the granting of undergraduate degrees or the expansion of its graduate degree programs beyond the biomedical science fields now authorized.

It was adopted in 1981 as part of chapter 325 which amended the Medical and Dental Education Act of 1970 (the 1970 Act).*fn1

Respondents contend that § 3.2 does not prevent the granting of undergraduate degrees in "the biomedical science fields." In effect, respondents argue that the phrase "beyond the biomedical science fields" in § 3.2 modifies the phrase "undergraduate degrees" as well as the phrase "graduate degree programs." Respondents also contend that § 3.2 does not preclude the University's participation in a joint undergraduate degree program with another institution of higher education.

In construing a statute we must give effect to the legislative intent. Monmouth County v. Wissell, 68 N.J. 35, 342 A.2d 199 (1975). Sources of that intent are the language of a statute, the policy behind a statute, concepts of reasonableness and legislative history. Shapiro v. Essex County Freeholder

Board, 177 N.J. Super., 87, 424 A.2d 1203 (Law Div.1980), aff'd. 183 N.J. Super. 24, 443 A.2d 219 (App.Div.1982), aff'd 91 N.J. 430, 453 A.2d 158 (1982); Coletti v. Un. Co. Freeholders, 217 N.J. Super. 31, 524 A.2d 1270 (App.Div.1987).

Prior to the 1981 amendments the 1970 Act did not contain an express limitation on the University's power to confer undergraduate degrees. The 1970 Act stated that the Legislature and the Governor found "that the establishment and operation of a program of medical and dental education is in the best interest of the State to provide greater numbers of trained medical personnel to assist in the staffing of the hospitals and public institutions and agencies of the State and to prepare greater numbers of students for the general practice of medicine and dentistry. . . ."*fn2 L. 1970, c. 102, § 2; N.J.S.A. 18A:64G-2. The 1970 Act empowered the Board of Trustees to "[d]etermine the educational curriculum and program of the college" and to "[g]rant diplomas, certificates or degrees." L. 1970, c. 102, § 6(b) and (k); N.J.S.A. 18A:64G-6(b) and (k). The trustees were also authorized to exercise implied powers and powers "incident to the proper government, conduct and management of the college. . . ." L. 1970, c. 102, § 7; N.J.S.A. 18A:64G-7. Although the statutes are not without ambiguity, the primary purpose of the 1964 and 1970 Acts was to establish an institution to educate and train physicians and dentists.

We must construe § 3.2 to resolve the issue in this case. Section 3.2's structure strongly suggests that the phrase "beyond the biomedical science fields" modifies only "the expansion of its graduate degree programs." The legislative history supports this construction of § 3.2. The statement of the Senate Education Committee to the bill that became chapter 325

indicates that the bill's purpose was to provide "for a greater degree of administrative autonomy for the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey." Despite this avowed purpose, the Senate Education Committee expressed its intent that the University's mission

is, and shall continue to be, the offering of the graduate degrees programs in the biomedical science fields now authorized or authorized in the future by the State Board of Higher Education. Moreover, the committee endorses the State Board resolution of June 19, 1981 which states, "that it is in the best interests of a coordinated and ...


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