The war against critics of charter schools

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Julia Sass Rubin
Julia Sass Rubin

Julia Sass Rubin, a tenured faculty member and researcher at Rutgers University’s Edward Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and Mark Weber, a university graduate student who blogs under the title “Jersey Jazzman,” are publishing a series of monographs that analyze publicly available data about New Jersey’s privately-operated, publicly-funded charter schools. In response to the first installment of the series, a lobbying group, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA),  filed state ethics charges against Rubin and sent press releases about the charges to main-stream media outlets.

 

The NJCSA, which has notoriously failed to police ethical lapses among its own member organizations, invoked state power to silence critics of charter schools while, at the same time, it sought to shame Rubin and Weber by using clueless media outlets to spread the smear against critics whose work is backed by hard, empirical evidence.

 

Because charter schools cannot refute the evidence on its merits, they have chosen to try to intimidate those who make the facts available to the public. To ruin their reputations and future job prospects.

 

In a New Jersey run  by Chris Christie, a governor who prides himself in acting the puerile bully, the charter school lobby is aping the same behavior. Little surprise here–since charter schools have been the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in state economic development aid, doled out by Christie’s special friend, Michele Brown, a woman who once borrowed money from Christie  in an unrecorded mortgage while they both worked together at the US Attorney’s office.

 

The leadership of the charter school movement in New Jersey is, in short, every bit as dirty as the leadership of the state.

 

The NJCSA’s complaint, filed with the state Ethical Standards Commission as well as with Rutgers University–itself the target of Christie’s bullying tactics–contends Rubin violated state conflict of interest laws by failing to adequately distance her university position from her advocacy of changes in the laws governing charter schools.

 

“Dr. Rubin’s recent research interest in charter school policy, combined with the misuse of her Rutgers title in the course of advocating for an outside organization that she chairs has created an inference—in the eyes of public school educators, parents, legislators and other citizens—that Rutgers and the well-respected Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy supports SOS-NJ’s anti-charter school agenda,” the complaint read.

 

That is utter and complete rot and nonsense.

 

Anyone literate enough to read what Rubin and her colleague Weber have said or written about charter school policy is fully aware they are not trying to represent themselves as speaking for the university, whether or not they issue disclaimers.

 

I asked EJ Miranda, a Rutgers spokesman,  when a Rutgers faculty member must say, “I am speaking for myself and  not for Rutgers” and this was his answer: “Professors enjoy the rights and obligations of other citizens and how a faculty member identifies himself or herself when speaking publicly depends on the circumstance.”

 

Read the newspaper, watch CNN, and listen to the radio. It has become de rigeur among journalists to fill space and air with quotes from so-called experts, none of whom begins conversations with “Well, now, Wolfe, I’m not speaking for my university, of course, but….”

 

Google Brigid Harrison, a political scientist from Montclair State and insert a media outlet–The Star-Ledger, say–and see how many hits you get.

 

Her university website begins with “Reporters who need to get in touch with me immediately can call (609) 204-2170 or email me at: harrisonb@mail.montclair.edu.” Her job is to be a talking head–and I have never seen or heard a disclaimer. No one believes she speaks for Montclair State University. This is how she describes herself:

Brigid Callahan Harrison, 47, is Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University. Harrison teaches courses in American politics, and is the author of American Democracy Now (McGraw-Hill Publishers, first edition, 2009; second edition, December; third edition, 2012); A More Perfect Union (McGraw-Hill Publishers, 2010), Power and Society (Wadsworth, 2012) and Women in American Politics (Wadsworth, 2003), and various journal articles. A frequent commentator in print and electronic media on U.S. politics, Harrison often provides regular political analysis to FOX News and FOX Business News, and has provided commentary to ABC News, BBC, BBC America, and local affiliates of ABC, NBC, and CBS. She has often provided commentary on national and state politics to various NPR radio programs, including NPR News, the Brian Lehrer Show, and Marty Moss-Coane. She writes a weekly column on New Jersey politics in the Sunday editions of The Bergen Record, and her editorials have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Star-Ledger, and The Press of Atlantic City. (Italics mine)
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I don’t have a problem with Brigid Harrison. I’m glad she’s around to enlighten journalists who need a quote. But how in the world would anyone try to hang Julia Rubin  for doing the same thing? The same goes for the hundreds, probably thousands, of academic experts who have been kind enough to help journalists out–while, at the same time, getting their names and the names of their institutions into ink or on television or radio. Every university and college I have ever dealt with for decades has sent journalists a list of  “experts” they should call when they have a question on any topic, anywhere. It’s a marketing tool.
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And forget just talking heads. How about university professors and students who are demonstrating against some outrage–say, the efforts of George Norcross to split Rutgers into bits and pieces so he can extend his power by fattening up Rowan University. Not one of them, I remember, said, “Well, I’m not talking for the university, but…” and then added something about how corrupt Norcross is.
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Does anybody believe those protesting faculty members are pretending to speak FOR the university? Of course not.
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But, while I’ve brought up Norcross and Christie’s grant of a royal charter to Norcross to run Camden the way that best fits Norcross’s interests, let’s look at the composition of the board of directors of the New Jersey Charter School Association.  Let’s, for example, look at Wanda Garcia. She is  associate director, Rutgers-Camden Community Leadership Center. She is a Rutgers administrative employee openly, publicly, advocating for the success of charter schools as a member of the NJCSA’s board. But wait, there’s more, this is the center at Rutgers Camden that is headed by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Rutgers employee who runs LEAP Charter School.
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 The NJCSA contends Rubin is helping an organization of which she is a member–Save Our Schools-NJ (SOSNJ)–and shouldn’t be doing that because she is a Rutgers employee and Rutgers doesn’t take a stand on charter schools? But here is Garcia, a Rutgers administrator linked to a charter school openly advocating for what the NJCSA advocates–including, apparently, the destruction of critics of charter schools.
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If NJCSA wants to preserve the integrity of Rutgers (as it says it’s doing by seeking to punish Rubin), why doesn’t it file ethics charges against Garcia–or Bonilla-Santiago– for doing exactly what Rubin does–using the Rutgers name while advocating a political position? Well, because the NJCSA’s leaders and lawyers agree with Garcia and Bonilla-Santiago and they don’t agree with Rubin and Weber.  There are no principles involved here.  The only criterion the NJCSA uses for trying to destroy Rubin’s reputation is its fear charters will be exposed for the segregationist tools they are.
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NJCSA leaders–you are a slimy  crowd of  hypocrites. Your post-Enlightenment fatwa against  critics of privatized education soils the reputations of  the very schools you pretend to represent.
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There is no evidence Rubin has used her Rutgers connections to advance anything more than the debate about the future of charter schools and whether they should continue to discriminate against New Jersey’s children–the debate the NJCSA would rather avoid by gagging critics. Frankly, I have disagreed with Rubin–through New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC), she and her husband have helped charter schools achieve funding in the past and contributed to the dangers to public education posed by charters.  She sent her daughter to a charter school. I believe charter schools are inherently discriminatory and should be closed. Now. Rubin disagrees. So does Weber.
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But this isn’t about Rubin. It’s not about Weber. It’s not about individuals. It’s about an idea, a value–freedom of expression. That value is threatened and it is essential to push back.
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The NJSCA, with is $1.4 million annual budget and its $700,000 a year in private grants (let’s hear where they come from), is trying to bury criticism of charter schools, trying to intimidate their  critics. If NJCSA succeeds, the market will be widened for private, profit-making charter school management organizations to make money from public school funding. Taxpayer money.
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The lobbying organization spent a lot of money on lawyers to make the complaint look official and all wrapped up in legalese–but that’s all meretricious lipstick smeared over a very filthy pig. This is Christie-ism made public policy. This is  “Sit down and shut up!”  This is “Something’s going down tonight, sweetheart, but it ain’t jobs.”  This is, “I’m tired of you people.”
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This is bullying. This is a war against current and future critics of school privatization.
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This controversy is simple: Charter schools want to suppress criticism.  They can’t if their arguments are weak. So,  they are using a state agency, invoking the punitive power of the state,  to try to punish a critic, threatening her job,  while, at the same time, smearing her reputation publicly by sending out press releases about its complaint to clueless mainstream media outlets that will write about it as a “he said/she said” controversy without an overriding moral core.
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As if, in these days we even needed a reminder, the moral core is this: No  political fatwas here in New Jersey–we must be free to speak without fear of retribution.

18 comments

    • chris guerrieri

      I do a little blog in Florida, Education Matters (www.jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com) and Charter Schools USA has threatened to sue me twice for posts I have put up about them. I mean legal and threatening correspondence from lawyers, the whole thing. One was a re-post from a newspaper that I took down but with the other one, I told them it would stay up until they could point out what I got wrong. After threatening me a few more times they eventually went away.

      Bob Braun: Ain’t fun, right? Been the defendant in $24 million worth of libel suits. Haven’t lost yet. And now all they can grab is my Social Security check. Keep fighting.

      • Rev. Tony Johnson

        I’m pleased to know of a blog addressing these issues in Florida. Although from Orange, NJ, I am in Pinellas County for two years and am looking at some of the education issues here. I’ve been frustrated by having such an important battle going on at home and not being able to do much. Bob Braun’s Ledger keeps me informed and I send links to journalists I know and to public education defenders everywhere. A dear friend who recently moved to Canada, after many years with a private social services agency in Newark, values hearing news from the city where she served the community for many years.

    • Galton

      “If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law.” If you have neither, cry, consult with Laura Waters, stomp your feet, pound your hands, and whine about
      fairness.
      After that, give your live in boyfriend a 35k raise for making baloney sandwiches in a Camden Charter school.

  1. Bill Wolfe

    There is no doubt that this is a sham attempt to intimidate and silence a critic, and to chill additional critics from coming forward. It has no chance to succeed and the lawyers who filed it should be admonished for frivolous attacks.

    But, Rutgers’ press office really took a pass and undermined the University with this comment:

    “Rutgers does not comment on personnel matters, spokesperson EJ Miranda said.”

    This is not a “personnel matter” – this is an attack on the fundamental mission of the University – to conduct academic research and participate in an open democratic society.

    Those values are threatened and that are worth defending – and the Rutgers press office should have defended the University and one of their own, instead of their “no comment” cowardice.

    Bob Bran: Bill, I agree. Except I like my EJ Miranda quote better than the one you cited. “Per the university policy on Academic Freedom, professors enjoy the rights and obligations of other citizens and how a faculty member identifies himself or herself when speaking publicly depends on the circumstance.” Barchi has been a wimp since he was hired and the trickle-down has turned everyone else into wimps. Look what they’re letting Norcross/Christie/Sweeney do to the board of trustees.

    I trust this is helpful.

    • Virginia Bucci

      Huzzah! Spoken as a NJ taxpayer. I expect my state university to stand up to state pols as a voice for academic freedom. Why else have a state university?

  2. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – I am aware of another attack on a Rutgers professor, this one was from political appointees in the Christie DEP. They attacked this professor for publishing research, posting a link to that publication on his university website, and then talking to the press about it.

    The research demonstrated that the Governor’s policy was seriously flawed and the professors press remarks and prior testimony to the Legislature were highly critical of Administration policy.

    For that he was personally smeared and his – and Rutgers’ – State funding was threatened.

    I also see these intimidation tactics used against public employees by corporate polluters, e.g. false claims of bias or unprofessionalism. I’ve seen OPRA used to go on fishing expeditions against individual employees whose work is critical of regulated industry activities.

    No one steps up to defend those under attack, so I very much appreciate your effort to do so here!

  3. Pingback: Bob Braun on Charters’ Low Blow Against Julia and JJ | Diane Ravitch's blog
  4. James Realini

    It’s not just education, it’s every area of political discourse.
    Whitley Strieber & James Kunetka describe in their book, Nature’s End (1986) describe the prescient mode of today’s media (used by all sides, left to right) that amorally reports (and I suspect immorally for their employers) in the attack mode. Truth in media died a long time ago when the major networks moved “news” under “entertainment.” “Watch me” became paramount, don’t let the truth get in the way of a sound byte or 10-second video.
    Power and money have corrupted the voters unwittingly into surrendering their liberty and thus their ability to make informed choices. The ruling class runs the country for the people. Hobbes has defeated Locke and the public doesn’t know enough to care.

    Bob Braun: As depressing as it is, this is a thoughtful analysis. Thank you.

  5. Noel Hammatt

    Bob, thanks for this excellent post about the misuse of power by the reformers trying to silence critics. I was an outspoken critic of the abuses of charters and so-called reformers in the state of Louisiana, and was also serving on the faculty of Louisiana State University’s College of Education. Over the course of several years, my writings and public comments about the educational atrocities in Louisiana, such as the takeover of New Orleans by the Prophets of Profit, the push for vouchers and for-profit charter schools ledgy pro-“reform” Dean to decide that I would have to be silenced. The first shot over the bow was to remove me from a $993K grant that I had written and was Primary Investigator on, followed by my receiving a $22 a year pay raise a year later (I was due a minimum 4% pay raise, based on my annual report and evaluation that year). Less than a year later, after pointing out publicly that my Dean had lied to the media and to our University administration about my school district’s involvement in a grant that would fund several “reform” actions, including the creation of two charter schools in direct competition with the local school district, I was called into the office and notified that, as a cost-cutting move, that my non-tenured track position in the University was being cut, and that after nearly 19 years, I would not be returning to the University the following year. Oh, and my statements to the media? They were made in public meetings where I was clearly speaking as an elected member of the School Board, a position that I held for 16 years, right before the reformers decided to spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to unseat me. Follow the money. I fully understand the fears of many in academia to carefully tread on openly anti-charter or anti-“reform” positions, because the reach and power (and money) of our opponents is incredible. At the same time, I am immensely grateful and proud of those, like Julia Sass Rubin and Mark Weber who fight on, in spite of the attacks! Thanks again for this great blog post!

    • Galton

      Wow!
      Mr. Braun,
      Thank you for your work. Perhaps some in the NJ legislature could understand “tenure” a bit differently if they were aware of the linkage between the post above, the Charter’s intimidation, free speech and teacher tenure!

  6. Christie4BoyManLove

    My recent posts on NJ.com and Youtube about Christie, Cami, charter school abuses, Pink Hulahoop and a litany of other charges are erased. Yet if I log in, I see the comments . I log out they magically vanish. And I thought only North Korea did this type of cyber terrorism against its own citizens.

  7. Christie4BoyManLove

    FYI This kind of terror tactics have been used by the fracking and GMO corporations against scientists and other academics who dare share the truth. They have been fired, discredited, their reputations ruined. I’d never thought I’d see the day where this country became like Nazi Germany or the radicals that attacked Charlie Hedbo by stifling free speech.

  8. Pingback: Irony: NJCSA “ethics” complaint promoted by “Darth Vader” of PR | teacherbiz
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  10. Pingback: WolfeNotes.com » Is There a Hostile Climate For Scientists At Rutgers?

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