The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Monday, February 21, 2011

21st Century Education: Ethics and Economics

From left: Prof. Williams, Hophni Macenot, Kamika Bennett, Dr. Margaret Stevens, Emanuel Martinez

This past Friday, February 18, 2011, I was a panelist at Hudson County Community College’s Education Conference, titled “Student as Consumer, Education as Commodity: The Consumer Model of Education,” co-sponsored by the Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Faculty Senate, the Community College Humanities Association, and the Urban Issues Institute at Essex County College (ECC).

Dr. Stanley Aronowitz, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, was the keynote speaker for the conference. He framed his remarks in the context of what he views as the true role of education, reminding us all that educators in the humanities are, first and foremost, thinkers—our lives are dedicated to deep reading and reflection. Dr. Aronowitz’s observations were followed by a panel of HCCC educators and students, moderated by Prof. Harvey Rubinstein, on the topic of “Students as Consumers,” and then by the ECC panel.

The ECC panel focused on “The Role of Liberal Arts Education in Current Economic Times,” moderated by Dr. Margaret Stevens. The panelists were students Kamika Bennett, Hophni Macenot, and Emanuel Martinez, along with Prof. Barry Tomkins of HCCC and me.

Dr. Stevens provided a framework for her opening question on how “pedagogy and educational praxis have been influenced over the years by changes in the economic and sociopolitical landscape locally in New Jersey, and nationally and internationally.” In addition, she invited Kamika, Hophni, and Emanuel to reflect on and respond to the challenges they face as emerging humanities scholars in our current economic crisis.  

The students presented cogent theses on the importance of learning and education from a humanistic, rather than from a “market economy,” perspective. They were passionate and brilliant (at their first academic conference!) as they enumerated their reasons for choosing a liberal arts education in the midst of 21st century market shifts, which have added to the pressures of being a college student and choosing a major that may not necessarily lead to material wealth or comfort.

My presentation, titled “From ‘Consumere’ to ‘Educere’: Ethics, Humanities, and the 21st Century Community College,” focused on humanities as an ethics-based discipline and on how those who teach in the humanities have an ethical obligation and a moral responsibility, through the study of literature, philosophy, and history, to examine and respond to the issues that are taking up intellectual space within our culture—issues of war, economy, and social justice, among others. 

The audience queries in the question and answer period that followed the presentations were mostly directed toward the students, whose responses demonstrated a deep understanding of their own sense of responsibility for making the world better. I am always proud of our students, but on this day, I could not have been prouder.

Click here for the Jersey Journal news story on the conference: Author promotes liberal arts education over skills-based training

All best,


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Labor and Capital Redux: Collective Bargaining is a Right!

T. Thomas Fortune
As I follow the political developments in Wisconsin, I see certain resonances in the historic struggles of the working class against the depredations of those who would remove protections that workers in the 21st century have come to rely on. In my African American literature class, we are examining how 19th century black intellectuals (both radicals and moderates) advanced the critical conversation about equality and class struggle in America as they identified and negotiated strategies for black progress after the Civil War.

Since it is Black History Month, I wanted to honor Timothy Thomas Fortune* (1856-1928), the pioneering African American journalist, by reprinting excerpts (it's a fairly lengthy text for a blog) from his important speech on labor and capital, originally delivered on April 20, 1886 in Brooklyn, New York and published in his newspaper, the New York Freeman. Fortune viewed African American political, social, and economic progress in terms of class conflict and linked to the worldwide struggle for working people. 

This complete text of the speech and others in the black radical tradition can be found on The Black Past site: 


"The iniquity of privileged class and concentrated wealth has become so glaring and grievous to be borne that a thorough agitation and an early readjustment of the relation which they sustain to labor can no longer be delayed with safety to society."

"For centuries the aim and scope of all law have been to more securely hedge about the capitalist and the landowner and to repress labor within a condition wherein bare subsistence was the point aimed at."

"This species of oppression received its most memorable check in the great French Revolution, wherein a new doctrine became firmly rooted in the philosophy of civil government that is, that the toiling masses of society possessed certain inherent rights which kingcraft, hereditary aristocracy, landlordism and usury mongers must respect. As a result of the doctrine studiously inculcated by the philosophers of the French Revolution we had the revolt of the blacks of Haiti, under the heroic Toussaint L'Ouverture, the bloody Dessalines and the suave, diplomatic and courtly Christophe, by which the blacks secured forever their freedom as free men and their independence as a people; and our own great Revolution, wherein the leading complaint was taxation by the British government of the American colonies without conceding them proportionate representation. At bottom in each case, bread and butter was the main issue. So it has always been. So it will continue to be, until the scales of justice are made to strike a true balance between labor on the one hand and the interest on capital invested and the wages of superintendence on the other. Heretofore the interest on capital and the wages of superintendence have absorbed so much of the wealth produced as to leave barely nothing to the share of labor."

"It should be borne in mind that of this trinity labor is the supreme potentiality. Capital, in the first instance, is the product of labor. If there had never been any labor there would not now be any capital to invest. Again, if a bonfire were made of all the so called wealth of the world it would only require a few years for labor to reproduce it; but destroy the brawn and muscle of the world and it could not be reproduced by all the gold ever delved from the mines of California and Australia and the fabulous gems from the diamond fields of Africa. In short, labor has been and is the producing agency, while capital has been and is the absorbing or parasitical agency."

"I abhor injustice and oppression wherever they are to be found, and my best sympathies go out freely to the struggling poor and the tyranny ridden of all races and lands. I believe in the divine right of man, not of caste or class, and I believe that any law made to perpetuate or to give immunity to these as against the masses of mankind is an infamous and not to be borne infringement of the just laws of the Creator, who sends each of us into the world as naked as a newly fledged jay bird and crumbles us back into the elements of Mother Earth by the same processes of mutation and final dissolution."  

*Fortune's home in Red Bank, New Jersey (known as "Maple Hill"), is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pothole Identification and Repair

Dear Second and Third Ward residents,

Over the past couple of days, as the temperature has become warmer, the snow has been melting, revealing fresh potholes caused, in part, by the huge snowfall we have experienced this winter season.

In an effort to assist the Public Works Department in filling all holes as efficaciously and expeditiously as possible, please feel free to forward to me via telephone or email (or contact Public Works directly at or at 753-3427) the nearest cross streets of the location of the hole, or identify it by the house number. I have marked the location of several, but you can help as well. In addition to your own neighborhood, please note any other areas in the city where you find the situation most egregious. 

All best,



Friday, February 11, 2011

Plainfield's Budget: Responsible Leadership is Crucial

Plainfield residents were made aware at this past week's agenda-setting session at City Hall Library that the city's budget gap will be upwards of $3.4 million, according to the projections of CFO Ronald Zilinski. With the municipal cap of 2% mandated by Governor Christie in place, Plainfield will be faced with some very difficult decisions. We have seen what other municipalities (such as Camden, Jersey City, and Newark) have had to do in order to reduce budget shortfalls. This will be an extremely difficult year for our city and, in the spirit of cooperation for the commonwealth, the mayor and the council will have to work hard to keep our tax increase manageable (well, that's an oxymoron) while continuing to deliver efficient city services. 

The Plainfield of today looks quite different from that of the past. I am hopeful that we can get through this process by casting a cold, hard eye on our finances while, at the same time, working to ensure that we meet the needs of those whom we serve. 

All best,