The Culture War Comes to College

The culture wars over education have graduated to college.

What has been more or less a K-12 battleground has now arrived at Warren County Community College in the state’s northwest corner.

And as is often the case, the dispute involves the nexus of education and politics and the hiring of one, Joseph Labarbera, to a new position at the college, Dean of Accountability.

Labarbera is also Republican chair in neighboring Sussex County. Both counties are political outliers of sorts – Republican bastions in a state controlled by Democrats.

As Sussex chair last fall, Labarbera was in the forefront of the GOP’s legislative campaign, much of which involved allegations the public school system has become too left wing or “woke.”

To that end, Sussex Republicans designed a cartoon (above) mocking Phil Murphy for allegedly trying to yank children away from their parents for indoctrination by alien-looking beings. No subtlety there.

That earned Labarbera a TV appearance on Fox News in which he said he was “sheltering” his children from the public school system by enrolling them in private school.

That was a few months ago.

Now, proving that campaigning is one thing – and real life another – Labarbera has taken a job with a public college.

Granted, this is not the K-12 school system, which generated controversy during the campaign, but it is still public education.

Asked about his new position earlier this month, Labarbera responded in an email:

“This role is 100 percent non-political and I sought it for the purpose of being outside my county and not politically involved. I both love, and am a product of, public education. My passion is reforming it so New Jersey can be once again a global leader in high academic achievement for all. Warren Community College is, in my view, one of the best in the state. As a former Army Command Inspector General, my background in policies and procedures can be an asset to the great work already underway.

” … I don’t interfere with the personal and professional lives of Democrat party chairs and would respect the same courtesy.”

Labarbera’s point about having the right to take a professional job without partisan criticism is understood. However, it is not so cut and dry, given the fact that the job in question is a position with a public college, not a private one.

Warren County is a bit remote – at least by New Jersey standards – but the news of the new hire has made it to the New Jersey Public Education Coalition, a group recently formed to combat what it says is a possible right-wing takeover of the state’s public school system.

The coalition has unearthed some of Labarbera’s past social media posts, all of which espouse quite conservative positions on such things as gay rights and the Black Lives Matter organization.

The issue here is easy to grasp.

Philosophically speaking, everyone has the right to their political views. However, will those views impact how an individual does his job in a public environment?  Job duties in the new position include “overseeing the college’s strategic plan implementation.” and its research and planning functions.

The coalition wants its supporters to raise this issue at the February meeting of the college board of trustees. It recently dispatched a social media alert, which concluded.

“Given Mr. Labarbera’s very strong views as evidenced by just a small sampling of his social media posts (they were enclosed in the posting), the question arises as to whether he can accomplish these tasks in an unbiased manner.  If he is allowed to remain in this role, what will Warren Community College look like in five years?  Which professors will still have jobs? What research projects, learning goals, etc will be included in annual plans?  What will outcomes for students be?   Staff and concerned citizens are realistically very worried and thus need your help.”

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6 responses to “The Culture War Comes to College”

  1. We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.

  2. His Fox News Interview and his own YT videos speak for themselves. He views himself as a warrior in an ideological battle against liberals. How about view yourself as a public servant and educator? Oh right, neither of those are in his background. This job was created for him to be a bully.

  3. The behavior of the board of trustees and administration of this college is disgusting. Bullying and harassment are rampant. At the last fundraising event I attended, the President vowed revenge against people in a speech. It was bizarre. They have a former trustee working as a janitor making $120,000.00/year. How is the place even still open? Someone needs to investigate what is going on there.

  4. Thank you, Fred Snowflack, for revealing this information. The public, the students at WCCC & those considering attending, and the educational community must know about how leadership is hired & supported at this institution as well as the beliefs of their administration b/c public education should be nonpartisan at all costs. It is paid for by all of the tax-paying public and should represent that.

  5. As a Warren County graduate who was an active member of our campus community, and even a student alumni trustee, I am extremely alarmed at this appointment. I don’t believe this person is a reliable or adequate addition to the college, and he will not have students’ best interests in mind in his work. His appointment, the speed and secrecy under which it was conducted, and his actions outside of WCC will force me to cease with my advocacy that my students attend WCC. I cannot in good conscience send my students to this increasingly hostile environment.
    I urge those reading to call for more oversight and communication in these appointments now and in the future. I speak with the voice that WCC helped me to build, so know that this comes from a place of respect and concern from my alma mater.

  6. It seems that there are several vice-presidents, deans, and administrative staff as it is at Warren County Community College. The Republicans in New Jersey make a fuss about fiscal responsibility when it comes to public education, property taxes and all that, and then do this. Furthermore, the school continues to hemorrhage full-time students. So it’s hard to see how this appointment supports education, or the public, and isn’t just a political appointment considering Mr. Labarbera’s relationship to the Republican party and its leadership locally. Ultimately it’s the teachers who actually care about students, and the students themselves, who will suffer the most. I respect Mr. Labarbera’s service to this nation as a veteran, but I’m not understanding how what he is doing here is public service, at all.

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