Tag Archives: Stockton University

Constitution Day at Stockton University – Joan Biskupic lecture on Chief Justice John Roberts

This year, Stockton’s celebration of Constitution Day fell on the actual anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia. This being one of my favorite holidays, I attended the plenary lecture which followed a day of activities with guest speaker Joan Biskupic.

Biskupic is a journalist (CNN), lawyer and biographer. Her talk focused on John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Her biography entitled The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts was released in March of this year, and already Roberts has served up more surprises, particularly blocking a citizenship question on the US census. His opinion was based not just on the question of whether the agency involved had the right to add a question, but also whether the reasons for making the change were “contrived”.

Biskupic emphasized the importance of the DC Circuit of the US Court of Appeals as a “pipeline” to the Supreme Court.

During his years of private legal practice (1992 to 2003) Roberts argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court.

Roberts is a conservative, placed on the Court in 2005 by GW Bush and, unusually, elevated directly to Chief Justice, rather than serving as Associate Justice first. Some of his opinions reflect his attitude that the Supreme Court is “not a legislature” and many matters must be left to the states.

What interests Biskupic most is judicial PROCESS – the “horse trading” and “sausage making” behind the decisions which often (as in gay marriage) have huge impacts on American life. Much of this is reflected in drafts that are circulated as justices develop their opinions. How does one justice influence another? Justice RBG warns observers “it’s not over ‘til it’s over”. The Supreme Court sometimes surprises even the most sophisticated analysts.

Biskupic says that in her next life, she wants to be an archivist. She loves pouring over documents. I consider this a very valuable contribution to society (and I never met anyone else who shared that aspiration).

I didn’t stay for the entire Q/A session, but it got off to a good start due to excellent moderation. The first question was about whom she interviewed for The Chief. Roberts is a persistent interviewer. She describes Roberts as “inscrutable”. He never permitted recording of their conversations. Other questions directed to Biskupic pertained to “sleeper decisions”, decisions of greatest consequence and “term limits” for the Supreme Court.

Biskupic published three other Supreme Court biographies and additional related books, some coauthored by Elder Witt (C-Span). I’m most interested in Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice (2014). I believe I read Biskupic’s 2006 biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, though my memory is uncertain, and perhaps I read a different author.

“Having Our Say: Women of Color in the 2018 Election”, a lecture by NJ Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver

Personal note! Living near a college (in my case, Stockton University) is an advantage. Something is always happening. In the past few weeks, I’ve attended three lectures. Unrelated to the University, I stepped out for one speaking engagement. I will blog about all of this. Stay tuned!

Institutional note! FIFTEEN years ago Stockton University initiated the Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium. What a great program! Every Fall, a distinguished guest speaks about RIGHTS. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) was an amazing example of a person who acted to expand human rights in our country.

Now to discuss the event and the featured speaker. Sheila Oliver was preceded by about 45 minutes of music, dance, welcome and introduction. It was interesting to note which earlier civil rights leaders were mentioned in either the introductions or Ms. Oliver’s presentation:

  • Shirley Chisholm
  • Coretta Scott King
  • Angela Davis
  • Mary McLeod Bethune
  • Eleanor Roosevelt

The auditorium was dark, so my note taking was limited. Ms. Oliver pointed out that in this election cycle, many women are choosing to run outside of the two major parties. The importance of state legislatures (when the US House and Senate are polarized and paralyzed) was emphasized.

I’m always curious how a leader is shaped by her education. Ms. Oliver mentioned A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) and The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) as foundational for her, and also recommended Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, by S and E Delany.

Ms. Oliver was not long winded, but many students left before the Q/A period. Maybe shorter preliminaries would reduce this attrition?

The panel assembled for feedback and discussion was distinguished. I won’t try to cover everything said. The standout was Christabel Cruz of the Rutgers Center for American Woman and Politics. Emerging leader! She was the youngest panelist and the first (only?) speaker to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community. She is energetic and articulate and exactly the right person to reach out to millenials. After all, this event was intended to engage STUDENTS. I hope Ms. Cruz stays in New Jersey.

SOJOURN – A journal devoted to the history, culture, and geography of South Jersey

South Jersey Culture & History Center Logo

In my last entry (which was rather a rant), I commented that my part of New Jersey has been slow to develop an identity, slow to achieve recognition, possibly lacking in self/civic awareness. I’m pleased to announce that this is changing! We are now blessed with a fine academic journal, produced by the South Jersey Heritage and Culture Center at Stockton University.

Sojourn describes itself as a collaborative effort. The presiding genius is Dr. Thomas Kinsella, Professor of British Literature at Stockton University, who supervises an editing internship program for Literature and History majors. Papers are solicited from local historians and other authors. (Academic credentials are not required.) Students edit and format the work. The result is impressively professional. A wealth of maps, portrait reproductions and photographs (both historic and contemporary) make for a high level of visual appeal.

The most recent issue is themed around the American Revolution. Fourteen articles cover aspects of that conflict. I was particularly interested in “When Mad Anthony Came to South Jersey: Civilian Experience during the American Revolution” by retired Stockton University Professor Claude Epstein. He discusses how the military actions in South Jersey stressed and distressed a population that was relatively poor and dispersed. He describes the Revolution in New Jersey as “more of a local civil war with multiple sides.” Not the simple narrative of valiant patriots battling evil Tories that some of us were taught in school!

I checked Sojourn’s “Call for Articles” to consider if I might want to contribute. I’ve lived here 40+ years, which makes me an old timer. Unfortunately, there’s no humor category! I plan to offer my article “Sex clubs, convenience stores and ‘The Wawa Way’” (see blog post dated July 9, 2014). Think I can talk them into it?? I could probably manage to add a few footnotes, if necessary.

Copies of Sojourn are available in the bookstore at Stockton University’s Campus Center, on Amazon.com and at a few local outlets. It would make a nice gift for anyone interested in local history, or having some connection to Stockton University.

Cover image of SoJourn 3.1

“The Tempest” by Shakespeare

Every once in a while, I just need a dose of Shakespeare. It wakes up my brain and tickles my fancy, like a tonic. So I was very happy to attend a performance of The Tempest at Stockton University this week. This was a production by students, University staff and community members.

The Tempest is a comedy (nobody dies), but it deals with serious themes. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, has lost his office to his perfidious brother and suffered 12 years of exile on a desolate island. (Bermuda?!) A scholarly man, he has passed his time studying the magical arts, and is ready to retake his realm and take his young daughter back to her birthplace.

The crux of the play is the question of revenge. Prospero, an accomplished sorcerer, gains power over this enemies, power enough to kill them if he chooses. But he grants forgiveness.

The audience is reminded throughout the play that Shakespeare lived at the end of the age of magic. (Is it past? Do you encounter magical thinking? Indulge in it?) The supernatural elements (spells and sprites) are a large part of the play’s charm.

This Stockton production was highly successful. I was swept away by the poetry, music and plot. The acting, especially Rodger Jackson as Prospero, was first class. I loved Ryan Gorman as poor, bad Caliban and Erica Delbury as Prospero’s daughter Miranda. The entire cast deserves commendation.

So… South Jersey residents don’t need to leave home to enjoy good theater. And this probably applies to anyone who lives within striking distance of a college or university with a drama department. Support your local thespians! And remember the Bard.

“The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel – a performance AND a book!

First, the performance… I sang alto in the chorus for Stockton University’s Oratorio Society performance of “The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel last week, on December 13.


This was a large scale performance. Two hundred singers! An organ, a grand piano and a professional chamber orchestra – all directed by Professor Beverly Vaughn, with several able assistants. It was as much drama as music. The soloists ranged from students making a first public performance to seasoned professionals. All performed exquisitely.

We performed over 80% of “The Messiah”. Most people don’t realize how much comes AFTER the “Hallelujah!”, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Of course I love to sing “Hallelujah!”, but I get an equal thrill from listening to “The Trumpet Shall Sound” (air for bass) which depicts the Day of Judgment. The dead are raised! The trumpet is glorious.

There’s some especially beautiful (and challenging) music at the end of “The Messiah”. Listed only as “Worthy is the Lamb” (Chorus), it’s a three part extravaganza: “Worthy is the Lamb” is followed by “Blessing…” a list of gifts:

  • Blessing
  • Honor
  • Glory
  • Power
  • Riches
  • Wisdom
  • Strength

A rich version of Christianity, but who am I to question Handel’s vision? There follows a graceful, energetic “Amen”. I hope it was as satisfying to hear as to sing.

The Stockton Messiah was performed in The Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, in their larger venue. Stockton has had difficulty “placing” “The Messiah”. I was in the audience years ago when it was offered in the University Performing Arts Center and in the Gymnasium. Neither was satisfactory. I also went to St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Atlantic City, and some other casino. Now the University has its own big event room. I think it could work, but everyone was very excited about Borgata. I fear it cost us some audience members among the University community (who wants to drive to Atlantic City on a Sunday evening?!), but maybe it evened out, and we reached other listeners.

Now, what about the book, which I excavated from my piano bench? Properly, it is called a score. Mine is the complete vocal score, published by G Schirmer, Inc. The conductor works from a full score, with all the instrumental parts, an even more impressive document. My score includes an “Introductory Note” with advice to singers and conductors. The writer places particular importance on dynamics (variations in volume). The book includes the libretto (all the words in the oratorio) with Biblical chapter and verse in every case.

One page of Handel’s original writing is reproduced at the front of the book. It was not chosen randomly, but to emphasis a point about the dynamics of a particular chorus, “Glory to God”. Gazing at this page, I think back to a time when the only way to get this music was to copy it by hand, and the only way to hear “The Messiah” was to make your way to a performance. Thinking of these difficulties, I’m profoundly grateful that this music survived into our times.

How did I get my score? It has my sister’s name in it, but she wasn’t able to tell me how she acquired it. I believe it was stolen from the church of our childhood, and I suspect our Mother may have been an accomplice. Mom worked for the church, and certainly had a proper respect for church property, but she strongly supported our musical endeavors, and I think a good bit of music was “borrowed”.

The copyright in my score dates from 1912! I love to think the book is old, but on the title page, in tiny letters, it says “Ed. 38”, so probably it’s not old, nor of particular value (except to me!)

“The Messiah” is performed by Stockton in alternate years. Will I sing in 2017? I don’t know! But I am boundlessly grateful for this year’s experience.

“Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy” by Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart

Some coincidences are really strange. Consider, for example, the timing of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident – March 28, 1979. That was just twelve days after Jane Fonda’s antinuclear movie The China Syndrome was released. (The expression refers to the fact that, in theory, an out-of-control nuclear core meltdown might progress indefinitely.) That was the public weirdness.

The private weirdness, for me, was that in March of 1979 I was teaching a college course on Environmental Issues! Nuclear power was among the “issues” on the agenda, and news reports superseded my teaching plans for weeks. (Younger readers may not realize how frightening the TMI accident was. Many people had their “escape” routes planned, in case a large region had to be evacuated.) I learned so much about radiation that I think I could have passed a licensing exam for Radiation Safety Officer. The timing was one of the strangest coincidences in my life.

And now… I have been reading Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy by Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart, and what happens? The casino industry implodes. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. The bold and (somewhat) controversial plan by Stockton University to establish a campus in the former Showboat Casino has been torpedoed by a casino industry mogul. The Press of Atlantic City has all the dirty details. A project that might have been a cornerstone of redevelopment for suffering Atlantic City has been delayed. Time is money, and the plan may be dropped entirely. Stockton University is in shock.

Mutari and Figart released their book Just One More Hand about six weeks ago. It focuses on the workers in the casino industry, featuring details about the lives of several dozen casino employees. The authors interviewed these people in their homes or on neutral territory, and protected their identities through the use of pseudonyms. This is really a book about the nature of work, and the impact of work on quality of life. It is both well documented and highly readable. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

Consider what the “casino industry” represents! An illegal activity considered a serious social problem has (over about 40 years) been

  • legalized
  • organized
  • regulated
  • cultivated
  • nurtured…

and transformed into an “industry”; a branch, in fact, of the “entertainment industry”. Early on, intense efforts were made to ensure that organized crime didn’t follow gambling into AC when the first casino opened in 1978.

I am well of an age to remember when gambling was illegal. A vice. A crime. I still question its morality. Is it okay to get something for nothing? Advocates point out that participation is voluntary. I choose not to gamble.

Mutari and Figart don’t delve into the question of what came along for the ride as Atlantic City rushed down the path to being a one industry, gambling town. I wonder about drugs. About fifteen years ago, I attended meetings of the “Family Life Committee” at my son’s public school. We dealt with issues like sex education, the level of racial tension, domestic violence, and DRUGS. All the fun stuff. One parent casually referred to gambling as Atlantic City’s number two industry. He was convinced more money was changing hands over drugs than through the legal channels of the gambling industry in Atlantic City. Is this true?

I found Mutari and Figart’s chapter on public investment and risk very interesting, especially the information about Revel, the immense casino that now stands dark and empty, next to the former Showboat which Stockton so optimistically tried to repurpose. Every day the news brings an update on Revel. Is there a buyer? What will happen to the tenants? And whoever thought the mega luxury resort was a good idea?? It’s quite clear that the casino industry, shiny and new in 1978, has matured, spread, and, in fact, reached a saturation point. There was no market for Revel. A shocking amount of tax money was sucked into that black hole. Some experts refer to this as a case of “economic predation”. The money is gone. Little benefit accrued to the taxpayers.

The future of Atlantic City is a mystery. You can understand it somewhat better if you read Mutari and Figart’s excellent book, but really, all we can do is wait and see.