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,



  1. Rebecca,

    Ethics and Economics. How appropriate considering the world we live in today. A time when profit is valued over people too many of the times. It would be great to have an event like this at Union County College - Plainfield campus. The thoughts of our young people need to be heard and promoted as a perspective that we value. The next batch of progressive intellectuals are on there way! Great job.

  2. Good, but right now our children are dying on Front street. Our taxes keep going up. PMUA is out of control and raising our fees by 67%.

    That is what concerns me.

  3. Good morning council just wanted to inform you of the politics beingplayed in city hall and pmua. They are moving David Spaulding to pmua to save him a job and moving dolly hamilton from tracey brown church who works for purchasing at pmua to the clerks office to assist AJ. I hope council can put a stop to the bad politics played in this great city of plainfield i finally have hope now

  4. Rebecca:

    I can see why you are so proud of your students. Having taught one of your panelist Ms. Kamika Bennett i know you had meaningful dialoque on the issues and were given a true student perspective. Great Job Kamika.. Continue to be you...

    L. Carter