Andres Acebo Full Statement on September 12 Board of Trustees Meeting

During the public meeting of the Board of Trustees on September 12, 2022, at the conclusion of Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success Ben Rohdin’s enrollment update to the Board, Board Chair Joseph Scott inquired about the noted concerns in specific growing declines in Black male enrollment at the University.  After Mr. Rohdin responded to Chair Scott’s question, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Aaron Aska spoke up from the back of the room, noting that there were students in the audience raising their hands with a presumed question. EVP and University Counsel Andres Acebo, who as board secretary is responsible for ensuring compliance with Robert’s Rules of Order and Board bylaws and policies governing public meetings, reminded Dr. Aska that meetings of the Board are public business sessions and there is a specifically designated public comment period during the meeting. Those protocols for speaking are duly advertised to the public well in advance.

Public meetings of the Board, just like public meetings of every public entity throughout the State of New Jersey, are governed by the New Jersey Public Meetings Act.  The business of the board is conducted pursuant to its bylaws and policies to promote efficiency to matters of public concern. They are not public forums for spontaneous general questions and answers during public presentations of and to the Board.

During the meeting, Mr. Acebo left the dais and approached the student in the hall and explained the public participation protocols and encouraged him to participate and attend the board meetings. He stressed the importance of having student engagement. The student’s question on the University’s high school recruitment efforts was answered. Later in the meeting, during the public comment period, Mr. Acebo privately signaled to the student if he wanted to speak, and the student declined. At that time, the Board Chair could have exercised his discretion to allow the student as a member of the public to address the Board.

After the public meeting adjourned, Interim Vice President Rohdin spoke to the student to address his question about local high school recruitment efforts as did the Board Chair Joseph Scott and Vice Chair Luke Visconti separately. Board Chair Scott advised the student about the process to sign up to address the Board and the appropriate management of public meetings, and encouraged him to participate.

No member of the public, and especially no student, was deliberately silenced at the meeting.  Members of our campus community are strongly encouraged to sign up and register to speak at the public board meetings and our community forums.

Any claim that a member of the public was or would be improperly and discriminately silenced, let alone one of our students, is wrong if not outright offensive.   Regrettably, a simple conversation between people with an established rapport could have avoided this misunderstanding.

As a personal point of privilege, speaking on my own behalf, the plight and systemic marginalization of people in our community, especially those of color, needs to be voiced. I am profoundly proud to witness the young men and women on our campus who use their voice to effectively and responsibly call out injustices and inequities. It is a personal and professional privilege to have the platform to champion them, because I see myself in them, and that’s why representation matters.