On April 9th, Rowan University announced that Governor Chris Christie, arguably the most anti-public education governor in New Jersey’s history, will deliver the keynote address at the commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2014:
Glassboro, NJ – Rowan University announced, today, that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Senator Donald Norcross will be honored during this year’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony, scheduled for Friday, May 16. In his report to the Rowan Board of Trustees, President Ali Houshmand informed the Board members that the Governor had accepted his invitation to deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2014. The Board later approved a resolution to bestow honorary degrees on the Governor and on Senators Sweeney and Norcross.
“We are excited that Governor Christie has accepted the invitation to address our graduates at this year’s ceremony,” said Linda Rohrer, chair of the Rowan University Board of Trustees. “And Rowan is proud to award honorary degrees to the Governor and to Senators Sweeney and Norcross. For decades, state leaders have proposed changes to improve New Jersey’s higher education system, but it took the foresight and perseverance of these three to make a profound difference in higher education, health care and the economy of our state. Together, they have created a legacy that will benefit generations of New Jersey residents.”
Before we get into the political implications of Rowan’s invitation to Chris Christie, it’s important to look at Rowan University’s history–particularly its contribution to teacher education in the state. This comes directly from Rowan’s website (emphasis mine):
Rowan University has evolved from its humble beginning in 1923 as a normal school, with a mission to train teachers for South Jersey classrooms, to a comprehensive public research university with a strong regional reputation.
In the early 1900s, many New Jersey teachers lacked proper training because of a shortage of schools in the state that provided such an education. To address the problem in South Jersey, the state decided to build a two-year training school for teachers, known then as a normal school.
In September 1923, Glassboro Normal School opened with 236 students arriving by train to convene in the school’s first building, now called Bunce Hall. Dr. Jerohn Savitz, the institution’s first president, expanded the curriculum as the training of teachers became more sophisticated.
Despite the rigors of the Depression, the program was expanded to four years in 1934, and in 1937 the school changed its name to New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro. The college gained a national reputation as a leader in the field of reading education and physical therapy when it opened a clinic for children with reading disabilities in 1935 and added physical therapy for the handicapped in 1944. The college was one of the first in the country to recognize these needs and was in the forefront of the special education movement.
Although the University shed its formal “Teachers College” title decades ago and has greatly expanded its programs of study, its reputation as one of the leading schools for future educators has remained–which is all the more reason for current students, alumni, and educators in the State of New Jersey to be intensely offended by Rowan’s decision to invite Chris Christie to speak at its graduation ceremony.
Chris Christie’s disdain for public education and educators–and especially, the unions to which they belong–is certainly no secret. See here, here, here, here, and here (or just google…you’ll find plenty more) if you’ve somehow missed the many ways in which he’s expressed as much. Chris Christie has slashed funding from the state’s education budget, is a cheerleader for charter expansion that cripples traditional public schools, and has put inexperienced Teach for America alums/cheerleaders like Cami Anderson and Paymon Rouhanifard–products of a program that trains its non-education-major corps members for five whole weeks before sending them into urban classrooms–in charge of the state’s most vulnerable districts. Bridgegate and Sandy Relief Fund scandals aside, does Rowan, a University that built its existence upon its mission to prepare teachers to command classrooms New Jersey’s schools, really feel that Chris Christie deserves to deliver a keynote address at commencement? Really?!
Also problematic is the University’s announcement that it will not only bestow honorary degrees on Chris Christie, but also on Senate President Steve Sweeney and State Senator Donald Norcross–both of whom have had important roles in undermining public education and demoralizing teachers across the state. The Norcross name, which screams big money and an inordinate amount of political influence in South Jersey, even appears in the name of a KIPP charter school in Camden. Let’s not forget the partnership between KIPP and Teach for America–an organization that criticizes and undermines traditionally-trained teachers and teaching programs all over the country. Again: really?
A change.org petition to Rowan University, initiated by Joseph Nappi to demand that the institution rescind its invitation to Christie, has been signed by over 1,400 people in just a few days. If you haven’t done so already, you should sign and share it.
Because obviously, scores of people in New Jersey and beyond all wondering the same thing: what the hell is Rowan University thinking?