This fall, for the first time in its nearly 200-year history, Center City's Thomas Jefferson University will compete in NCAA sports, as the Jefferson Rams.
The addition of 17 intercollegiate athletics teams is one of the potentially fun changes coming to Jefferson thanks to its acquisition of Philadelphia University in East Falls. The merger, announced in December 2015, will be effective Saturday, officials said Thursday.
At the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which had to approve the deal, there was concern that Jefferson, with its billions in revenue from health care, would have an unfair advantage over the other schools in the Division II Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, Jefferson's president and chief executive Stephen K. Klasko said.
"I had to convince the NCAA that I was up to my patoot in problems with health care and I wasn't going to be spending that on unfairly getting basketball players," he said.
Joking aside, Klasko, who has led Jefferson through mergers with Abington Health and Aria, as well as the still-pending deal with Kennedy Health in South Jersey, described the Philadelphia University deal as personal. Health care's problems may seem intractable, but academics is fixable, he said.
"This is going be fun because we really have a chance to create something different, things like not putting bright lines between bachelor's and master's degrees," Klasko said. That could make education faster and more cost-effective for students.
"It's not like health care, where I'm limited in what I can do from all the external constraints. There's no IBC or Aetna of education," he said. "Once you get through the accreditation and as long as you're not too wacky, you can really do some interesting things."
Philadelphia University president Stephen Spinelli Jr., who will be chancellor of the combined operations, said management had identified 60 initiatives that are already underway or will start as soon as the deal is legally completed.
Already this summer, about a dozen Philadelphia University undergraduates have research internships at Jefferson, Spinelli said. This fall, more than a dozen doctoral candidates at Jefferson will teach, tutor, and mentor Philadelphia University undergraduates. Philadelphia University liberal arts faculty are holding workshops for medical professionals at Jefferson to improve writing skills. A medical-marijuana research program at Jefferson has been expanded to include hemp with the help of Philadelphia University textiles experts, Spinelli said.
The name of the institution will be Thomas Jefferson University. Honors programs will be housed in the new Philadelphia University Honors Institute. The combination will have 7,800 students and 78,000 alumni, Jefferson said.
Overseeing academics at Jefferson will be a subset of the overall board. The Jefferson Academic Board will be cochaired by Eileen Martinson, current Philadelphia University board chair and alumna of the university, and Richard Gozon, former Thomas Jefferson University chairman.