My name is Dr. Anthony E. Munroe and I am the newly appointed President of Essex County College. In my brief time here, I have been greatly impressed with both the school’s expressed and demonstrated commitment to being an open-access institution committed to providing high quality educational programs and life-long learning activities to a diverse population of students. Proof of this commitment is the fact that we serve students who hail from 59 countries.
As many of you may know, Essex County College opened its doors in 1968 in the wake of tremendous upheaval caused, in part, by the lack of opportunities in education, training, and jobs. From that upheaval, Essex County College has provided opportunity and hope to countless dreamers and has birthed many change agents in our society, including educators, community activists, politicians, judges, and Olympians. Our diversity has enriched and enhanced our learning community as it pushes us to collectively and continually wrestle through the very real challenges associated with hearing, honoring and respecting an array of needs, customs, beliefs, orientations, backgrounds and norms.
Recently, much attention has been given to the impact of an exchange on a television show between an Essex County College adjunct and the host. The College was immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a College employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus. I want to address how the College is responding.
- As the new president, I think it is important for me to make clear and reaffirm the College’s commitment, as a public institution, to maintaining a welcoming environment to all students, from a variety of races, lifestyles, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, faiths and cultures.
- I fully believe that institutions of higher learning must provide a safe space for students to explore, discuss and debate, not only academic philosophies, but the harder issues related to living harmoniously and growing together in our communities and as a country. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion, and unity. Racism cannot be fought with more racism.
- To continue to effectively fulfill our mission and to continue our legacy of providing opportunity and success, there are principles, which we eagerly embrace. First, Essex County College deeply values free speech and academic freedom. The open exchange of ideas and perspectives gives strength to our institution and provides depth to the education provided to our students.
- The College also supports and affirms the right of free speech and independent views and expressions of those views for our faculty and staff. We expect and encourage faculty involvement in our community. My administration has a duty to set a strong example of tolerance. Accordingly, free speech and academic freedom must always work in the service of our student body.
- Another principle we embrace is that of being an open-access institution. Our commitment and responsibility to the health and well-being of our students is paramount. Essex County College actively seeks to create an environment, which is welcoming to people of all backgrounds and abilities. Consistent with this principle, we firmly reject and denounce any conduct that implies that all students are not welcome to participate in, or benefit from, our programs or activities on the basis of their race, color, orientation or national origin.
- When the administration receives an outpouring of concern regarding our student body, it is our responsibility to investigate those concerns.
- While the adjunct who expressed her personal views in a very public setting was in no way claiming to represent the views and beliefs of the College, and does not represent the College, her employment with us and potential impact on students required our immediate review into what seemed to have become a very contentious and divisive issue. For the purpose of a fair and immediate review, the adjunct was suspended with full pay, for the remainder of the summer I session which equated to six (6) working days, pending the outcome of a fair and thorough review of the matter. The adjunct addressed the College community at an open forum on June 20th. In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct. The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission.
As I experience a time of transition and change along with the College and as we anticipate celebrating our 50th anniversary, I believe that it is an important time to emphasize who we are at Essex County College. It is also critical for our community to come together in a new way. To that end, I am excited to announce that the College will be forming and launching “Mosaics – Unity in Diversity”. Mosaics will be a committee charged with finding important and new ways to demonstrate how all of our respective and diverse backgrounds are necessary for the beauty of our community to be complete and appreciated. The committee will be comprised of individuals stepping up from the student body, faculty, alumni, and broader community to celebrate and educate our diversity as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary in 2018. I am also excited to announce that this upcoming fall, we will continue to enhance the educational opportunities at our Newark and West Caldwell campuses by opening a Veterans Center, a state of the art Information Commons, and expanding programs in Cybersecurity, Paralegal studies, and Business Administration.
Our commitment to continued growth and our broad diversity will pose challenges as this kind of diversity on all our campuses is not easy. However, I believe that it is necessary. It is necessary because it enables our students to not only thrive academically, but to be prepared to engage in diverse work places and in our very inter-connected world. We are committed to fostering a dynamic learning community where all of our students flourish through learning how to adapt and inter-relate cross-culturally. We invite you to celebrate with Essex County College as we unite, grow and commit to inclusion and openness, and exceeding expectations!