Teachers, students, unions, and Jersey City electeds gathered at the New Jersey City University (NJCU) student center for a rally calling for more state funding.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
NJCU Local 1839 President Dr. Barbara Hildner said she taught at the college for 51 years, leading to applause from the hundreds on hand, noting that tens of thousands of students from Jersey City, Hudson County, and beyond have been taught there.
She also noted how Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has often described coming from a working class background comparable to many NJCU students, therefore he should understand how dire this situation is.
“This institution belongs to you. I’m the son of immigrants, of a man who escaped political and personal persecution on a raft guided only by a compass I proudly display in my office every single day,” NJCU President Andres Acebo exclaimed.
“The probable becomes possible in this institution every single day … The American Dream is found on this campus every single day,” he also said, noting that his mother-in-law attended NJCU while working full time.
The keynote speaker of the afternoon, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, said that she couldn’t understand why a Democratic state was hesitating to help an institution in one of their largest cities.
“Why the hell does New Jersey not have the same commitment to its people as Jersey City? If this was Florida and [Gov. Ron] DeSantis, maybe I could understand the answer. This is a state that prides itself in having one of the best educational institutions in the nation,” she asserted.
“We need to be in Trenton We need to be in Washington. We need to be together fighting.”
Assembly members Angela McKnight (D-31) and Raj Mukherji (D-33), who are both running for state Senate seats in June, said they would fight tooth and nail to aid the school, which is tentatively expecting to end the school year $10 million in debt.
“I don’t know what it is about folks from urban communities that lead others in the state to think we don’t deserve a quality education. Now that’s transcended into the higher education arena,” Mukherji declared.
“It is the most accessible institution in the State of New Jersey. When folks dream of rising up … the path to that … is higher education. Maybe it is just a way to keep those in vulnerable communities from rising above their stations the way the Taliban does to women in Afghanistan.”
Assemblyman Will Sampson (D-31) commended the student body on operating a free food pantry.
“This is the kind of thing we need to continue to fund. I know what it feels like to be told you can’t be anything. We have to make sure we invest in your future.”
New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said they were ready to talk to every state legislator on this issue if they have to.
“We’re here to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and make sure this place gets funded. We’re gonna tell every legislator in the Assembly and in the Senate, we’re going to tell them to vote no on the budget unless this institution is funded. Those people that don’t stand with us, we’re not gonna vote for them.”
Additionally, Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon noted he taught there until 2019 when he was a victim of budget cuts himself.
“This college is indispensable to Jersey City, Hudson County, and New Jersey and needs to be treated that way,” he declared to applause. “Every institution in the city relies on you, and we need to make sure the budget reflects that.”
NJCU Student Government Association President Thyquel Halley expressed students’ plight in this situation.
“It’s really disheartening to have to rally together for an institution just to get some funding to provide adequate ed and resources and services for our students,” she said.
Dr. Gloria Boseman, a teacher who was laid off after 40 years, said that the state has an opportunity to change lives for the better here.
“I’d like to tell the Governor and who so ever else might be listening … if you do anything else other than fully fund this institution, then you have made a decision you have to live with for the rest of your life. You commit them to something less than they deserve.”
Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea concurred that the city and county should not have to beg the state for additional funds in this scenario.
“This school is asking for less than one-half of one percent of that [state budget] surplus. We understand there is a need for oversight. The battle may require us to get on a bus and ride down to Trenton. Or get on a bus and go to Drumthwacket to the governor’s house and let him know what we stand for,” O’Dea noted.
“It takes … 41 votes to pass a budget. There are currently 46 Democrats. Six of those Democrats represent Hudson County. We need to get our state Assembly members to say no money for NJCU means a no vote for me on the state budget. Now there’s leverage. If some of our legislators are reluctant, we’ll go to where they live and talk face to face.”
After the nearly two-hour rally concluded, HCV asked McKnight how optimistic she is about getting additional NJCU funding from the state, McKnight said, “I’m a supporter. It’s all of us.”