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Why no RIC-URI Nursing School project?

June 8, 2012

The nursing school that was to be shared by the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College is on life support. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay wonders if this project became a victim of our state’s legendary turf battles.

When it was proposed two years ago, the plan to build a new $60 million nursing school in Providence’s Jewelry District was what politicians, business leaders and educators like to call a “win-win.’’

The idea was to put a 121,000 square foot school near the sprawling Rhode Island Hospital, Women & Infants and Hasbro Children’s Hospital campus.  It was to be shared by URI and RIC.

Originally both URI and RIC wanted to build separate nursing schools on their campuses.

Locating the two programs in one facility was viewed as a smart way to combine classrooms and laboratories, avoid duplication and save money.

On many levels it looked like a good idea. Such an institution would have been an anchor for the old Jewelry section of downtown that state and city leaders have been trying to rebrand as the `Knowledge District.’

Investing in a nursing school makes economic sense because in the rapidly changing medical landscape, our state, with its aging population is certain to need more nurses and nurse practitioners. Do you know any good nurses who are collecting unemployment?

Now it looks as if the plan for the nursing school was hatched by what Saul Bellow so famously called the Great Intentions Paving Company. As the General Assembly heads into its waning days, the nursing school plan has crashed and burned. At the eleventh-hour, the proposal to finance it with a bond issue was left out of the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Why did this happen? Good question. Yet it one that nobody in the state’s political and  education hierarchy wants to answer.

Nancy Carruilo, the RIC president, has declined comment. URI President David Dooley issued a statement expressing “disappointment that the nursing education center is not in the budget.’’

A spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence said the colleges and Governor Lincoln Chafee’s administration took too long to submit final plans.

None of these excuses passes the laugh test. Neither RIC nor URI have issued a formal rationale for why the project collapsed. And time is rarely a factor for an Assembly that routinely approves hundreds of bills and hastily-written floor amendments in the wee hours of the annual State House rush to adjournment.

The only clue to the demise of the nursing school came from Michael Smith, an assistant to the RIC president. In a Facebook rant that has since been taken down, Smith denounced the plan for the joint RIC-URI nursing partnership. He stated the plan was “ill-conceived’’ and a “house of cards built on a foundation of ego, profit and a profound lack of understanding of public policy as well as micro and macro financial issues within public higher education.’’

(A RIC pr flack trotted out a statement saying that Smith’s Facebook post did not reflect the views of the college administration).

Smith also asserted that the RIC nursing program is “the state’s most successful.’’ That may come as news to URI, a university with more rigorous academic standards than RIC. Along with training nurses, URI has a research focus. RIC mostly trains bedside nurses. Under the original proposal, the two programs would share the same facilities but would have been run separately.

So until we get some straight answers, Rhode Islanders are left to assume that the `smallest state with the biggest egos’ syndrome has once again triumphed. This is the same attitude that over the years has given our tiny state 150 pension systems, 75 fire departments, 39 school districts and many other institutions from the Department of Redundancy Department. Will Rhode Island ever learn? Or is the Ocean State working overtime to embellish its reputation as a place that grasps on to nothing as tenaciously as the status quo?

On this issue voters may have the last laugh. No matter what the Smith Hill crowd does, the ultimate decision will rest with the voters in November. What if we just say no to the RIC bonds, which might force our politicians and education bureaucrats to go back to the table and revive a sensible plan to put the nursing programs under one roof.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:40 and 8:40 on Morning Edition. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our `On Politics’ blog at the web site.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    June 8, 2012 7:20 pm

    “Whither,” not “wither.”

  2. June 8, 2012 8:28 pm

    Actually in this context either spelling passes muster

  3. Barbara S. vennerbeck permalink
    June 8, 2012 9:44 pm

    …. how about ‘ whether ‘ as in .. whether we’ ll ever get smart about who we vote into office ….Not much good comes out of our sausage factory after 3 AM !

  4. June 8, 2012 10:21 pm

    Delighted to see Scott pick up on this. I had raised the same issues in apersonal Facebook posting and in a response to Mike Smith’s posting, before it was so suddenly removed, probably under pressure from a college administration that apparently has a distaste for disagreement.

  5. June 9, 2012 11:27 am

    While I am a loyal RIC graduate (Class of ’87, MAT – ’96), I’ve never fully understood the rank animosity that exists between URI & RIC faculty & staff. There are so many programs, like nursing, that could and should be shared to everyones benefit. They already share a doctoral program in Educational Leadership, so why not this?

    “Smith also asserted that the RIC nursing program is “the state’s most successful.’’ That may come as news to URI, a university with more rigorous academic standards than RIC.” Perhaps I am a bit biased here, but I believe the acadmic standards of RIC were just as rigorous as that of URI when I pursued both of my degrees in history (I sweat bullets prepping and defending my Masters thesis and my undergrad research thesis). Scott, were you making a sweeping generalization, were you defending your own alma mater or was your comment targeted spcifically at the nursing program?

    • June 11, 2012 2:36 pm

      I was not defending my alma mater; I went to UVM. The URI nursing program is more competitive than RIC, although medical leaders with whom I spoke told me that both programs produce great nurses. The two programs have somewhat different missions, with URI focusing more on research. And overall URI is harder to gain admission to than RIC based on SAT scores and student grades. But Rhode Islanders should understand that they are both fine institutions that deserve more support from all of us.

  6. Paul Almeida permalink
    June 11, 2012 12:51 pm

    As a guidance counselor in CT and an RI resident it is common knowledge in the high school ranks that RIC has a vastly superior nursing program to URI. Jane Williams who has built this fine program was one of only 20 nursing deans invited to an April 12 event on nursing with Michelle Obama; URI was not invited. Also the plan to combine the programs was an effort to move the program away from RIC to bolster the URI program. The plan also seemed to be a thinly vailed attempt to take the program and place it under URI control, which would remove the nursing program’s strongest asset, Dean Williams. Does anyone really believe two programs in the same building would remain separate? It would be a waste of money and decimate the RIC program that has national recognition. Voting down RIC bonds would only decrease funding to higher education which has been neglected for far to long for all our schools.

  7. June 11, 2012 2:38 pm

    I can’t see how housing two separate programs under one roof and saving money on labs and classrooms would “decimate” the RIC program. Maybe I am missing something here.

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