2016-02-03 / Home

New Jewish pres. at Stockton has impressive history

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


DR. HARVEY KESSELMAN… officially became president of Stockton University January 1. DR. HARVEY KESSELMAN… officially became president of Stockton University January 1. Dr. Harvey Kesselman, a member of Stockton’s very first class in 1971, assumed the role of university president on January 1.

Kesselman, who is Jewish, is known as a problem-solver who is adept at working with community partners. He is well respected by Jewish leaders who have forged close relations with him over the years on collaborations between Stockton and the Jewish community, including the creation of the Holocaust Resource Center in 1990.

“Harvey Kesselman, in his role as president of Stockton University, represents a strong and committed partner for Jewish Federation in its efforts to expand the experience and understanding of Jewish life on campus through Hillel, as well as the commemoration and awareness of the Holocaust through the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center,” said Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

Past Atlantic & Cape May County Federation president Leo Schoffer, who is currently vice chair of the Stockton University board of trustees, said Kesselman’s presidency is good for both the Jewish community and the community at large.

“The board of trustees and the Stockton community are very pleased we were able to retain Kesselman as the new president,” he said. “He has a long history at Stockton. It’s very unusual for someone who was a student in the first class to go on to become president of a university.”

Kesselman, 64, has served as Stockton’s interim leader since past president Herman Saatkamp’s departure in late April. Just before that, Kesselman had been named president of the University of Southern Maine and was expected to begin there in July 2015. In May, Stockton board chairman Madeleine Deninger asked the University of Southern Maine to allow Kesselman to withdraw from his contract, and the university’s chancellor agreed to this request.

“Stockton has been a part of me since its founding, and I cannot walk away now,” said Kesselman at the time.

Deninger praised Kesselman’s “experience, courage and foresight,” specifically citing his work in helping the board to navigate the sale of the Showboat property in Atlantic City. On Jan. 15, Showboat was finally sold to developer Bart Blatstein for $23 million, clearing the way for Stockton’s leaders to focus squarely on expansion plans, which include the creation of an Atlantic City campus.

According to current plans, that campus will be located at the end of Albany Avenue, on the site of the old Atlantic City High School, and will have classroom space and accommodations for 500 students. Schoffer, who is chair of Stockton’s Atlantic City Task Force, said the new Atlantic City campus will likely create new opportunities for partnership between Stockton and local Jewish organizations, which are located less than four miles from the new campus site.

“Discussions have already taken place between different Jewish organizations and Stockton, as well as between Stockton and other groups in the community, about ways in which they all can partner when Stockton comes to Atlantic City,” he said.

Kesselman is widely considered to be the “mentee” of former Stockton president Vera King Farris, whose leadership resulted in the creation of the Holocaust Resource Center in 1990.

According to retired New Jersey Superior Court Judge Gerald Weinstein, who has held multiple roles in the Jewish community and was chair of Stockton’s board of trustees in 2005-2006, Kesselman was responsible for turning Farris’ plans into reality. This was especially true of the Holocaust Resource Center, said Weinstein, who was a driving force behind the center’s creation.

“Without his involvement, it never would have happened. Harvey executed Vera’s plans. Harvey would find solutions,” said Weinstein.

Kesselman is also adept at working with community partners, said Schoffer. “Stockton has always been a community-based institution. A lot of that has to do with him, in his past position, and should continue with him,” noted Schoffer, who said that it was Stockton’s high level of community interaction that prompted him to become involved with the school. “I originally got involved because I saw Stockton as an institution that really reached out and was part of the community where it sits. That’s not true of all universities.”

Weinstein also said it was Stockton’s involvement in the community—specifically the Jewish community—that led him to become involved with Stockton’s board. “It was really the Jewish community and Stockton working together on a number of different projects that led me to going onto the board.” In addition to partnering with Federation on the Holocaust Center, the two organizations also worked together to create what is now the Stockton Hillel.

Currently, the Jewish Federation is trying to further bolster the Hillel at Stockton. Federation’s Wisemayer said Kesselman’s presidency should facilitate these efforts. “I think that on a professional level he understands and appreciates the need for creating an inclusive community at Stockton for its diverse religious population, even though it’s a state school. And I think that as a Jew he understands the importance and positive effect that a strong Hillel can have on a college campus.”

In the past, said Weinstein, Federation’s positive experiences partnering with Stockton prompted other Jewish agencies to do the same. Among those organizations was the Katz JCC in Margate, which is now exploring opportunities for getting involved with Stockton’s Atlantic City campus.

“We have talked about doing a number of programs with people who are in the baby boomer age cohort,” said Margate JCC CEO Jack Fox.

Kesselman, for his part, appreciated the Jewish community’s ongoing contributions to Stockton’s growth and development. “We’re extraordinarily grateful for the support of the Jewish community in terms of their time, commitment and resources and can only hope that will flower even more,” he noted. .

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