“Today, I am asking Governor Kean to conduct a critical review and assessment that will grow infrastructure, increase accessibility and promote excellence in New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning.” – Governor Christie – May 7, 2010
With the usual fanfare in May Governor Chris Christie signed Executive Order 26 establishing the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force. After having several weeks to review the Task Force’s recommendations, Governor Christie held a press conference on Tuesday. Christie’s response was not to help “grow infrastructure, increase accessibility, or promote excellence.” Rather, he simply put his own political signature on creating a Higher Education Council (Executive Order 52), and then kicked the can down the road by indicating the state can not afford additional investments in education now and by forming yet another advisory committee to develop recommendations for graduate medical education (Executive Order 51). He then diverted attention from the report by calling for passage of his own education “tool kit” proposals.
After all the effort of Tom Kean and his fellow members, we are left wondering why Christie established the task force in the first place, and what commitment if any he has to this cause. And we can also wonder about the timing of the press conference and whether it was designed to divert attention from his abdication of responsibility during the recent snow storm.
Tom Kean’s approach was to empower a new council and a Higher Education Secretary to take on more leadership. The Council Christie created is to consist of five members, all appointed by him and reporting to him, and meeting as infrequently as 4 times a year. Christie so far has shown no interest in appointing a Secretary to this long vacant position.
The Task Force pointed out that New Jersey has the fewest post-secondary seats per high school graduate (page 138) and the lowest state appropriation in Higher Learning (page 126) than any other state. These long-known pressing concerns the governor ignored.
Christie fancies himself an expert on graduate medical education because of his prosecutorial intervention into UMDNJ affairs. However, his only action was to call for the third study of this matter via an advisory committee with an extremely broad mandate encompassing hospitals, medical schools, nursing schools, UNDNJ, Rutgers and even NJIT.
His press release following receipt of the task force’s report spent almost as much space on promoting his Tool Kit as it did on the report itself. Hopefully the Legislature will pay more attention to the report’s recommendations.