Calling it “the first of many meetings,” New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Brian Bridges on April 16 hosted a virtual session with AFTNJ’s higher education leaders.

“Our organization has been looking forward to the opportunity to meet with you and share our concerns regarding higher education,” said Dr. Susanna Tardi, AFTNJ’s executive vice president/higher education, in her opening comments. “We want to serve as a resource for you so that we can move higher education in New Jersey forward in these challenging times.”

Asked by Dr. Tardi about campus safety in the COVID-19 era under his leadership, Dr. Bridges said, “We want to hear from the institutions about what their restart plans are so that we can assess them and make sure that they’re abiding by the safety protocols and guidelines set forth by the state as well as the CDC and our health partners over at DOH.”

On the topic of goals at New Jersey’s minority-serving institutions, Dr. Bridges said, “I believe we have five or six MSIs in the state. I know that as someone who has worked on issues related to diversity and student success — particularly for underrepresented students, whether they are low income, first generation, minority students — we are committed to making sure that those students continue to succeed.”

Near the meeting’s midpoint, Rutgers University professor emeritus/HELC co-chair Dan O’Connor, HPAE staff member Jean Pierce and Rutgers URA-AFT President Christine O’Connell each took turns telling Bridges about their concerns regarding outsourcing and privatization.

“I agree with you that we’re all working to better and strengthen higher education in New Jersey,” Dr. Bridges said as the meeting was winding down. “And while we might have different visions for that, I think that we can work to come together and make sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction toward the same goal. And so, this will be the first of many meetings … we can look at the schedule and figure out how to make a meeting every six weeks or so work, or every other month, whatever can work out.”

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