By Lauren Minore and Stephen Neukam
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy expressed his support of the cancellation of the sale of Westminster Choir College (WCC) to Chinese company, Kaiwen Education, following an event hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics on Sept. 24.
In light of the announcement of Rider’s consolidation plan to incorporate the students, faculty and staff of WCC onto the Lawrenceville campus next fall, the governor touched on preserving the history and integrity of the choir college during a phone interview with The Rider News.
“I do value the choir college and I was bemoaning the fact that it was going to be sold to the Chinese entity, so I’m happy that didn’t happen,” he said.
On the question of consolidating the two campuses, Murphy expressed that he was not well-versed on the plan, but hoped to see the legacy of WCC live on.
“Beyond that, I’m not smart enough to know the inside sense of the consolidation question, I’ve read about it but I don’t have any sense of it,” he said. “But I do think the choir college is a cherished New Jersey asset and the extent to which its legacy can live onward in a fiscally and, otherwise, acceptable way, I think that’s great for the legacy, heritage and future of the choir college.”
Questions related to WCC or the consolidation plan were not asked during the Rebovich event.
On student loan debt, the governor pointed fingers at the Department of Education and public officials at the federal level. New Jersey ranked as the fifth-worst state for average student loan debt in 2019, with an average debt of $33,593, according to LendEDU.
“This is a big challenge we inherited and care deeply about getting it right,” he said.
The governor detailed a number of ways the state is attempting to combat rising student debt, including the community college opportunity grant program, which is in its second year and, according to Murphy, is a “huge game-changer, particularly for those most in need.”
He also said that for the past two years, increased funding has been given toward the educational opportunity fund and the tuition assistance grant. The state has also launched a pilot loan-forgiveness program for STEM majors, according to the governor.
Murphy also highlighted the need to make New Jersey more attractive to young people, which includes, he said, lowering the cost of housing, education and health care in the state.
Murphy did not take a clear position in the debate surrounding health care policy, which has dominated conversation in the Democratic Party ahead of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
“We get too tied up in the labels of what’s the principle as opposed to something that’s a tactic,” said Murphy. “The principle has to be healthcare is a right, not a privilege — that’s the core principle.”
Murphy expressed concern about the cost of a proposed Medicare for All plan and said “the easiest place to start from” is with the Affordable Care Act and to “continually improve that and make it better.”
“That, to me, is the most cost-effective way to get where we want to get to,” he said.
Prior to his appearance at Rider, climate protestors demonstrated in front of the Bart Luedeke Center to object to Murphy’s proposed master energy plan, because of its perceived reliance on fossil fuels. Particularly, the governor’s decision to not implement a moratorium on fossil fuel projects in the state has garnered criticism.
“I would ask the folks who are out front [protesting], who I have great respect for, to find another governor in the United States of America with a stronger environmental and clean energy agency than we have, and good luck, because there isn’t one,” he said.
Murphy anticipated an energy plan that will be “the roadmap to 100% clean energy in New Jersey by mid-century.”
“That master plan is in draft form, a work in progress, taking in commentary from all sides,” he said.
The governor also discussed key issues the state is currently facing during the Rebovich event, which had an attendance of 280 people.
Prompted by political science adjunct professor and Director of Rebovich Micah Rasmussen, the governor answered a series of questions from members of the audience, which included Rider students, faculty and other guests.
Murphy reflected on a recent trip to India which, he said, made him think about the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
“We are stronger as a society if we celebrate diversity, if we celebrate inclusiveness, if we celebrate pluralism and we are weaker if we do not,” he said. “If we want to punch at our highest weight, we need to have more women in the room, more people of color, we need to embrace immigrants [and] the LGBTQ community.”
After his opening remarks, junior journalism major Qur’an Hansford questioned Murphy about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and compared it to similar issues in Newark, New Jersey.
“Lead is a challenge in Newark, it’s a challenge in other communities, strikingly, both urban, rural and suburban,” he said. “It’s a national problem, it’s not just a Newark or New Jersey problem. There’s over 100-year lead infrastructure all over the United States.”
Replacing Newark’s lead piping is the “best way” and is the “long-term solution,” which is currently underway, according to the governor.
Murphy also answered questions relating to gun control, education and climate change, among other topics at the event.
Editor’s Note: Qur’an Hansford is an opinion editor at The Rider News. She was not involved in the editing of this article.