An Introductory Message from Interim President Andrés Acebo

January 17, 2023
Andy Acebo web header; HACU Fellowship (2021.09-03)

Dear Members of the NJCU Family,

In my first of what will be regular open communication with you, my NJCU community, I must begin, where most necessary, with deep gratitude for the trust and confidence that I have been afforded as your Interim President.

In ways that I won’t be able to ever fully express, this trust and confidence has meant so much to me, especially in recent days. To our Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, union advocates, and student leaders, I will work with you every day to prove worthy of the trust you have placed in me.

I must also acknowledge Acting President Jason Kroll, who put our institution first and agreed to lead us during the most painfully acute phase of our financial crisis. Despite many internal and external obstacles, he empowered us to strategically confront the immediacy of our challenges while allowing us the opportunity to put talent and skill to action with a focus on compassion and collaboration with stakeholders on and off campus.

To the responsibility entrusted to me, I pledge to honor it ever day I have the privilege of serving you. My journey to this institution is improbable — yet at the same time as completely imaginable in our country and on our campus as all the purpose-driven pursuits that are embarked upon every day by countless people. My story is your story.

I am the proud first-generation son of working-class Cuban exiles and a community of immigrants and underrepresented and underserved people whose sacrifices have delivered to me the promise of a better life through the equalizing force of higher education. I’m the son of a farm boy who escaped oppression and authoritarianism across an unforgiving sea on a makeshift raft with only hope and a compass to chart his future; a future that my education helped me chart for myself without ever contemplating the fear of political persecution or intimidation my parents experienced just a generation earlier. 

Growing up, it was easy to feel too small for the scale of my ambitions and dreams, and to convince myself that they were beyond my reach because of how my family’s story began or the conditions I was born into. But my family and my community, and in very direct ways, this institution’s mission fulfilled, lifted me beyond the soft bigotry of low expectations that others might so impose and helped me navigate the quiet indignities that so many of us must endure. This university’s graduates educated me, nursed me, protected me, and championed me.  

I witnessed this institution deliver for my friends and my family the promise of a better life — a promise that every day, faculty and staff, students, and community leaders and stakeholders, breathe life into.

I ran to our beloved university’s mission nearly two years ago, and immediately found myself, like you, confronting unprecedented challenges that threatened that mission. In that work, the promise of this university was affirmed every time I had the privilege to interact with our remarkable students and impassioned and fiercely mission-protective faculty and staff that make up our New Jersey City University family.

At our beloved NJCU, my story isn’t unique. It’s a narrative that brilliantly unfolds every day on our campus and is brought to life by the unrelenting work and conviction of our students, staff, and faculty. I see myself reflected and it confirms what we all innately know to be true — representation matters.

Our students are amongst the most extraordinary individuals our community produces. Tens of thousands of first-generation students have overcome the extreme injustice of economic marginalization and stubbornly persistent systematic barriers and obstacles in pursuit of the most noble of endeavors — a chance at a better life. 

That’s who we serve. That’s who we will champion.

To our students, I say, we are here to serve you and champion you. We will be worthy of the trust you put in our institution. To our alumni, I say, you represent our promise-fulfilled and we promise to continue to engage with you because this will never stop being your institution.

Decades of chronic underinvestment in our community will not deteriorate the refuge and sanctuary of dreams that our campus honors. Years of ill-fated plans, and the tyranny of a pandemic’s disproportionate plague on our community won’t either. I say that fully aware of the scope of our immediate challenges. This refuge, this sanctuary to our community, is deserving of investment and preservation.

The road ahead will be difficult, but I know that our institution’s challenges pale in comparison to the ones our students confront every day in their individual lives. We must emulate their resolve and be worthy of the trust they place in us to bring them within reach of their goals and aspirations.

Serendipitously, I take office the day after our nation celebrates the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a man that awakened the conscience of a country and inspired a world to commit to the work of social justice. That too, is our work here at NJCU.

I’m calling to action the conscience of all our students, faculty, staff, administrators, board members, stakeholders, and community leaders, to preserve the promise of this institution and protect it against the social injustice of its undermining. Use your voice and tell your stories — because you are NJCU.

That’s why I said yes to serving as your president. Not because of my belief that I could singularly deliver a better future but in our ability to do it together.

I need you. This institution needs you. Our students and our community are worth the sacrifices we will endure. They are worth the fight.  

A lot has been said and written about NJCU in recent months — some of it outright salacious and false, and others hard truths that we must acknowledge. We have let others tell our story. Today, that ends. Today, we begin drafting NJCU’s next chapter and building a bridge to our second century of promise and service to our community.

We must aggressively continue the work of addressing our financial stresses en route to our long-term sustainability while urging in concert the investment in NJCU’s future from those with the power to ensure it. We have made significant strides, with heartbreaking consequences for some individuals, and that profoundly impacts me. It should to all of us. Not everything that led to NJCU’s current circumstances could have been prevented, but some of it could have. We must always be honest about that and that’s how we will make sure we emerge stronger. 

Our community matters. This institution, as many voices, powerful in influence and beautiful in conviction have publicly acknowledged, is indispensable to our community. We know this to be true.

We will emerge a stronger institution, one that nurtures its community roots and anchors itself in service to it. We will not just talk about our minority-serving and Hispanic-serving designations. We will intentionally underscore service to the communities that trust us with their futures.

We will meet our students where they are. We will champion them beyond individual circumstances. We will enshrine and engage the principles of shared governance because its absence only leaves our mission vulnerable.

We will embrace the strength of our work force — an overwhelmingly proud union shop — that makes us stronger as an institution.

The months ahead will be difficult, but this institution and our community has weathered challenges before with optimism and zeal, and what my faith teaches me is to have hope in things unseen. It’s that hope that brings thousands onto our campus and it’s that hope that leads people to consecrate their life’s work here at NJCU.

I will fight for you and alongside you every day. From crisis to opportunity, I’m reminded of the words that have been sung and whispered in our community by people overcoming unfathomable experiences — no hay mal que por bien no venga y al mal tiempo buena cara.

We will emerge stronger as an institution where every voice connected to this campus helps chart our future. We will right our ship together.

We will move forward beyond our present challenges and circumstances, just like thousands of our students do every day. Onward and upward. Nunca para atrás, ni para coger impulso.

Yours in service,

Andrés Acebo
Interim President
New Jersey City University