Drive-Through College and Its Urban Mission

Rutgers Newark is celebrating its centennial this year, with its proud mission of serving an underprivileged urban population. It began in October 1908, when Richard Currier started New Jersey Law School in the Prudential Insurance building. He believed that education is “a most potent factor in the progress of human development towards the ideal in the individual and the state.” Then, in those University of Newark years, buses and trolleys carried mostly working class and new immigrant students to their classes. Among the commuting professors, the world renowned Frankfurt philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote his famous jazz essays, not without the Newark influence. In 1947, Rutgers University absorbed the struggling University of Newark to extend its influence, as well as to keep Eastern European Jewish and minority students out of the its New Brunswick campus. Since the rapid suburbanization in the 1950’s, the school population has further changed to create the most racially diverse, but the most commuting, student body in the country.
To turn the shallow commuter experience into an intellectually and socially more stimulating education, Chancellor Steve Diner, since the beginning of his tenure in 2002, has declared the university’s transformative effort for an urban residential college. However, a cultural revolution, that is, demands some deeply rooted structural changes. Despite a new 650-bed dormitory building, the “drive-through” college is still mostly quiet for at least three days a week, far from a 24-7 culture. Obviously, students’ financial constraint is not solely to be blamed for the commuter culture. Most college students have to pay for their own room and board some where anyway, in addition to expensive automobile commuting costs. A simple survey of where the university’s leaders live might provide some insight. Among a total of 36 top administrators, with titles of chancellor, vice chancellors, deans, and associate and assistant deans (from Nursing, Criminal Justice, Law, Public Administration, Graduate School), only one new vice chancellor might have a permanent Newark address. The rest are busy driving in and out of Newark, in some cases, for over 80 miles one-way. Campus parking has been a headache to almost all universities. However, Rutgers Newark might be among a very few in the nation where the planning priority of creating parking has been through destroying its own historic neighborhood. Students readily accept the inferior drive-through experience created by the very university leaders and professors who have paid only lip-service to a residential college and urban revitalization.

Interestingly, in his own dissertation three decades ago, Dr. Diner studied an urban residential college with its cosmopolitan faculty devoted to the home city’s progressive future. University of Chicago, Dr, Diner’s alma mater, has a proud tradition of an urban residential community. President William Harper and President Robert Hutchins dedicated many years of their lives living on the sometimes not-so-peaceful campus and fighting for the university and its place in the city and the world. Its professors are known for their loyalty toward their intellectual home, their students, and their city. I remembered the occasion of admiring Professor Edward Shils’ huge home library near the campus. The old scholar cut a distinctive figure on the streets of Hyde Park with his walking stick, his suit jacket, and hat. I am sure that Dr. Diner’s own experience in Chicago must have influenced his determination for a residential culture in Newark.

Under the leadership of Judith Rodin, within ten years, the University of Pennsylvania changed its campus, as well as the surrounding crime-ridden urban environment. Dr. Rodin not only lived on campus as the president, but also grew up in the neighborhood with her life-long affection toward the area. Buildings were developed, or renovated, to turn outward to the streets and the city, leading to collaboration with the community revitalization in University City and West Philadelphia. The university even established the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School and other partnership schools for children of local residents and university staff. Rodin convinced the university community that a viable residential college cannot survive without a residential faculty in a viable neighborhood and its city.

One might point out that the two elite universities have a different student population and a far superior financial strength, which a poor urban college lacks. Rutgers Newark’s own history, however, argues differently. From 1963 to 1974, Malcolm Talbott, Rutgers’ Vice President in charge of the Newark Campus, was in the forefront of the city’s revitalization and the modern campus’ creation. During his long distinguished service to the university, he always lived in Newark. Many active participants of the black student protest movement in 1969 vividly remember their insightful discussions in Mr. Talbott’s home on Mt. Prospect Avenue. Some of them, such as Vicki Donaldson, the spokesperson for the Black Organization of Students, maintained their friendship with Talbot to the last moment of his life, long after his ouster by New Brunswick for his out-spoken promotion of Newark’s interests. Many of Talbott’s colleagues lived around the campus, forming an intellectual home for many underprivileged students.

When becoming the President of NJIT in 2002, Dr. Robert Altenkirch was told to live away from the battled city. Soon, he realized that “the easy thing to do would have been to sit back in Maplewood,” knowing nothing about the lay of the land, focusing only on the campus, and ignoring the neighborhood. He said, “I have never pursued the easy over the right.” He happily moved to Newark and took responsibility as the chair of the Downtown Core Development, which includes the Prudential Arena. Following UPenn’s model, but with very limited recourses, NJIT developed a creative vision for the community around the campus and a seamless transition between “town and gown.” Starting his day on campus at 6:30 every morning, often including Saturdays, Dr. Altenkirch knows not only all university staff, but also many students by their first names and their future career pursuits. The sole purpose of the NJIT Gateway Project is to enhance the students’ residential life through creating viable mixed-use streets for the community and the city. Along the tradition of John Cotton Dana and Malcolm Talbott, Dr. Altenkirch has argued forcefully that only a hometown university, not a satellite drive-through campus, can be the engine and pillar of our city. As simple as that!

Booker on Rachel Maddow’s Show

Cory Booker on the Rachel Maddow Show
If the Twittersphere is any meaningful representation, Booker’s appearances in national media have the world falling in love with him.  But, they might have to get used to the occasional Booker verbosity were getting used to here in Newark.

Newark mayor Corey Booker on MSNBC: “I want to luxuriate in the racial deliciousness of our country.” Yum! Also: Ew! — Slate (via Twitter)

Booker Sticking Around

Booker says his future remains in city, not D.C.

Booker said Wednesday his work with the city is not complete. “I am not leaving here at all,” the 39-year-old mayor said. “I’ve been hearing rumors all over the place. I will remain in the city of Newark for this first term. I made a commitment to the city of Newark.”

Booker also said he plans to run for re-election in 2010.

“If Barack Obama said to me, he’s having problems with his vice president-elect or a cabinet position, I would do anything I can to help, but I believe where I am best is Newark, New Jersey,” said Booker.

Mark Alexander, a top policy adviser to Obama during the campaign, said he has no information on whether Booker has been talking to Obama’s campaign about a job in Washington.

“Cory was a great supporter from an early point in the campaign,” Alexander said. “Obviously he’s a great mayor and he’s a great leader for our country and I hope he does something to help out. How that comes out is his decision.”

Speaking with some fellow Newarkers last night, I was asked if Booker would be sticking around.  His lack of success in the recent local elections in the city seemed to spell a troubling trend that the mayor is disengaging from city business.

I don’t think he would leave (The Wire-savvy readers might call that “pulling a Carcetti”).  Booker has not only staked his reputation on the city’s ability to lead the nation in substantial improvement, but he’s brought in a number of key players that might get burned if the mayor were suddenly to back out of  his commitment.

Cory Booker is a politician that still suffers from the ailments of optimisim and sincerity.  He’s too deeply invested in the people here to suddenly walk away.  While he might well be offered some tempting opportunities to take a position in the Obama administration and define urban policy, it strikes me that he wants to see the policies he’s set forth in Newark bear fruit before he takes on a more wide-ranging position.

The mayor is a talented and intelligent policymaker and still very young in his political career.  Completing his first and even serving a second term in office will let him follow through on the city’s resurgence and only add to his credentials as an effective leader.  No one else in the nation could claim to be the catalyst of change to turn around what many consider the worst city in America to one of its most vibrant and exciting assets.  

If Booker succeeds in driving change in Newark, his future prospects will be truly limitless.

An Obama Victory is a Newark Victory

From the Star Ledger: Booker, Newark celebrate Obama’s win.

The outcome of the race had special meaning for many residents of the predominantly black city, which has never fully recovered from the racially charged riots that shook it in the late 1960s. Mayor Cory Booker said the election of Obama — the first African-American to be elected president — is a signal the U.S. is ready to heal the racial divisions of the past.

“This is a time when it still seems exceptional that people are going to vote for someone that is not of their race, and Obama is beginning to melt that reality away,” Booker said. “Everything’s not going to be perfect just because we elected Barack Obama, but this is a sign that the healing has begun.”

Shortly after the election results rolled in, City Hall released a statement indicating great expectations for our President-Elect:

 Newark, NJ – November 4, 2008 – The election of Barack Obama as President is a clear mandate for change in America – and, in particular, it presents a historic moment of opportunity for American cities.

For too long, there has been a limited vision of the capacity if our American cities and the potential role they can and must play in America’s long-term prosperity. In the recent past, federal partnerships to strengthen metropolitan areas have been insufficient but we now have renewed hope and a strong vision for change.

Obama’s vision and stated plans speak to future policies that will invest in our cities and work to develop the economic, social and cultural potential of our metropolitan areas. Obama is committed to safer cities, educational excellence for all our children and our cities becoming engines for our economic recovery and advancement. American cities can, and will, help generate American economic strength and help secure America’s global competitiveness.

We look forward to a partnership with the federal government that supports job creation, enhanced workforce training and increased access to capital for underserved businesses. Federal support of regional centers of innovation and next-generation industries such as clean technologies can help create new business and jobs. And, with Obama, we have a bolder opportunity to secure our short and long-term future through Obama’s plans to increase investment in early childhood education, as well as his commitment to making college more affordable for all Americans.

Today marks tremendous new hope for American cities. Working with Obama, we can create an America that nurtures all of her people’s dreams — a truly united country committed to strength, prosperity and justice for all. With the election over, it is now time that we, as a nation come together, work together, and strive together for our greatest collective aspirations.

TVJersey provides some man-on-the-street interviews from St. James AME Church.

Bell Wins in Central Ward

Charles Bell wins Newark Central Ward seat
Another local election loss for Booker, whose political strategy has been seen by many as faltering in recent months. I’ve heard grumbling that another loss for Booker in the Central Ward could spell disaster for Booker in his mayoral race for 2010. I’ll believe it when I see a real candidate that could oppose him.

I’ve also yet to see a story about how political opponents have been able to make an impact on the mayor’s agenda. As long as the Booker administration can execute on restoring the city’s infrastructure, measurably increasing quality of life, bringing jobs to citizens by the thousands, and reducing overall crime, the mayor shouldn’t have trouble with a re-election bid.

While an Obama presidential administration is likely to benefit small cities in general and Newark in particular, 2009 will likely prove to be the hardest test for Booker as the faltering economy will dry up federal funding, being more private sector layoffs and squeeze budgets of the non-profits with which the city partners for its programs.

Bell, who raised, a little more than $33,000 but loaned his campaign more than $11,000, had the backing of groups like the Superior Officers Association and the Newark Teachers Union, both groups that have clashed with Booker. Jailed former Mayor Sharpe James also donated to Bell’s campaign. Bell said that Osborne, like Booker, was just another outsider trying to put city residents “back on the plantation.”

“In my 40 years of politics this was the dirtiest campaign that I’ve been involved with,” said Bell. “When you have broad-based community support the money doesn’t matter.”

Its Your Vote, Protect It — Here’s How

You’ve done your homework.  You’ve watched the debates.  You’ve considered the positions, and had long converstations with friends and now you’re ready to vote in the general election.  But, how can you be sure your vote is counted?  
I received this note from the NJ-ACLU based out of Newark by way of a tipster.  Check out ways you can ensure that your vote is counted in the election by learning about your rights and using the ACLU as a resource.

Dear friends,

We’ve seen more interest in this election than any we can remember in New Jersey. That means that in four days the polls will be swamped, and voting rights may be affected.

There are some important things you should know for Tuesday.

  • The most important is the phone number for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and League of Women Voter of New Jersey’s Voter Protection Vote Line: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683). It will be staffed from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. – as long as the polls are open, we’ll be there.
  • You’re entitled to a provisional ballot if you’re not listed on the voter rolls, haven’t registered at a new address in your county, forgot an ID if you didn’t show it when you registered, or didn’t receive an absentee ballot in time. If you’re ultimately eligible to vote, your vote will count.
  • You’re entitled to an emergency ballot if the machines malfunction.
  • All voters are free to vote without anyone trying to influence their decision – which means campaign t-shirts, hats, buttons, stickers or any other paraphernalia will not be allowed at your polling place. You will have to take it off or turn clothing inside out if you do wear it.
  • If you experience any problems with voting, either listed here or ones that are entirely different (we’ve seen all kinds over the years), call our Vote Line: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683).

We hope you have a positive experience voting, but just in case you don’t, we’ll be here to help. Happy Election Day!

American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
P.O. Box 32159, Newark, NJ 07102
973 642 2084