The End of an Era
The End of an Era
By Samantha Whitehurst '13
E ight years ago, Harvey Kesselman said goodbye.
Behind a podium in the Campus Center Grand Hall, the then-provost and executive vice president thanked colleagues and friends for coming to a farewell reception. He was leaving Stockton to take on the role of president at the University of Southern Maine.
But his alma mater was in crisis: the attempt to turn the shuttered Showboat Hotel & Casino into an island campus in Atlantic City was stalled due to conflicting covenants on the property, and its president was on medical leave.
Stockton needed a leader.
Who better than someone who had learned under all of Stockton’s previous presidents?
“I was fortunate to work with brilliant minds who gave me the best advice and the opportunities to utilize those skills,” Dr. Kesselman said of his predecessors. “So, when I took over during a pretty difficult time, and though the problem was unique, the different skills that were needed to navigate something like that were just something that I naturally had by the opportunities they gave me.”
Dr. Kesselman credits each of the school’s previous leaders with molding him in some way. Dick Bjork, who he calls the ‘most brilliant man I’ve ever met,’ taught him so much about building a school, drafting policies, and establishing a vision. Peter Mitchell showed a more traditional side of college, establishing the division of Student Affairs. Herman Saatkamp shared the importance of getting involved at the national level, with organizations such as AASCU. But it was Vera King Farris, Stockton’s longest-serving president, who really saw something in Dr. Kesselman and gave him a chance to flourish.
Farris invited Dr. Kesselman to listen in on cabinet meetings, attend hearings in the Legislature, present to a range of policymakers and serve on higher education committees. Those interactions and relationships prepared him to eventually take on the role of president.
What was it that first caught Farris’s eye?
“She loved the way I interacted with students,” he said. “Students first – that’s my term. One of the first things I did when I became president was replace all the photos in K Wing from buildings to photos with students. That’s why we’re here.”
Putting Students First
The guiding principle of “Students First” has become synonymous with Dr. Kesselman, but it’s more than just a phrase or catchy tagline. It’s a testament to Dr. Kesselman’s history and the foundation for the University’s future.
Dr. Kesselman’s commitment to providing access to education is his way of giving back to the school that gave him what he needed.
“I hated high school; it was much too regimented to me,” he said. “I was a freethinker, and I didn’t like bells telling me when I should stop learning about something. When I came to this free-spirited place – there were no boundaries to what you could learn.”
A first-generation college student, like much of the University’s population, Dr. Kesselman was drawn to tutoring the less advantaged because he felt like one of them. He worked as a tutor in the Educational Opportunity Fund program, later becoming its director.
“I loved working with them,” he said of the students in the EOF program. “When you see that light bulb go off and you see the change that happens, there’s nothing more rewarding than that. You’re making a difference in the life of a student.”
Leading by Example
Dr. Kesselman led effectively due to his understanding of the ins and outs of the different areas within Stockton. He has held many roles throughout his tenure, including:
- Director of the Educational Opportunity Fund Program (1982-1985)
- Director of Institutional Research (1985-1987)
- Vice President for Student Affairs (1989-2002)
- CEO of Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center (SRI & ETTC) (2002-2007)
- Interim Vice President for Administration and Finance (2007-2008)
- Dean, School of Education (2008-2010)
- Provost and Executive Vice President (2010-2015)
- Tenured professor of Education (2008-present)
Returning to His Roots
Settling into his role as president, Dr. Kesselman quickly got to work to not only sell the Showboat property but find a way to bring an Atlantic City campus from idea to reality.
A member of Stockton’s first class, Dr. Kesselman’s journey began at the Mayflower Hotel on Tennessee Avenue in the resort town. Students and faculty quickly bonded during the semester, as everything was done in one space.
“Stockton’s sense of community was founded in Atlantic City [and] we brought it over to Galloway,” he said of the school’s interesting start. “To be able to recreate it more than 40 years later, to be part of that and work with such incredible people to pull it all together and all the partners, was and is one of the great joys of my career.”
Students first – that’s my term. One of the first things I did when I became president was replace all the photos in K Wing from buildings to photos with students. That’s why we’re here.”
The University was named an Anchor Institution by the state, highlighting Stockton’s dedication to students and the community.
While the Atlantic City campus – with a residence hall that now bears his name – may be Dr. Kesselman’s most visible contribution to Stockton’s history, it isn’t the only one.
39 Million Little Victories
“What we’ve done in eight years is nothing short of incredible when you start adding it all together,” Dr. Kesselman said.
And he’s right. Under his leadership, Stockton has tackled a range of issues in its steady rise to becoming a nationally ranked public university.
The University revised its mission and vision statements, solidifying its commitment to putting students first. Six key areas of focus and priorities were reviewed, discussed, and set in the new Strategic Plan.
A large working group, made up of faculty and staff from across campus, completed the Middle States self-study report. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Visiting Team reviewed Stockton’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning and reaffirmed its accreditation with 14 commendations from the evaluation team.
Dr. Kesselman’s heaviest lift during his presidency was his work to achieve equitable funding not only for Stockton, but all institutions in New Jersey’s public higher education system. Through tireless work with peers and legislators – many of those relationships first formed under Farris’s wing all those years ago – Dr. Kesselman successfully campaigned to increase Stockton’s direct state appropriation through the implementation of a dollar per full-time equivalent (FTE) funding floor and an increase in the number of funded positions.
The state did not have a minimum dollar per FTE prior to this work. A new floor of $3,000 per FTE was established, and now sits at $3,750 in FY23. As chair of the New Jersey Presidents Council, Dr. Kesselman also lobbied for an increase in Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) funding, and Stockton’s neediest students now receive an additional $1,200 grant per year, reducing their indebtedness.
Stockton’s total number of state-funded positions increased by 305, from 764 to 1,069, and are now valued at $9.5 million in savings each year, a figure that continues to grow as the cost of employee benefits increases.
Dr. Kesselman also worked closely with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to update their funding rationale for Outcomes-Based Allocations. Combined, these efforts resulted in Stockton’s total appropriation for FY23 of $39.409 million, an 123% increase over FY15 when Dr. Kesselman first took office.
Any one of these undertakings would be impressive for a presidency, but combined, they are a testament to what can be accomplished when you act and work from a place of love.
“I’ve worked to make a Stockton degree more valuable each and every day,” Dr. Kesselman said.
Following his official retirement on June 30 and a brief sabbatical, Dr. Kesselman will return to Stockton as a tenured professor of Education and President Emeritus.
It’s not goodbye, but see you later.
Dr. Kesselman and First Lady Lynne Kesselman have established several scholarship funds to give back to Stockton students.
Lynne Kesselman '82/M.A. '05 & Harvey Kesselman '79 Endowed Scholarship
The Kesselmans pledged $25,000 in 2015, and in 2018 doubled the commitment to $50,000. Annual awards of at least $1,000 have been given to Stockton students beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year.
Lynne Kesselman '82/M.A. '05 and Harvey Kesselman '79 First-Generation Endowed Scholarship Fund
The $25,000 fund was started in 2020 to ensure opportunities for an ever-increasing number of first-generation students at Stockton. As first-generation students themselves, Dr. and Mrs. Kesselman seek to assist those Stockton students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Kesselman Club Sports & Intramurals Achievement Fund
This $25,000 fund will help pay for costs such as tournament entry fees and travel for students in the more than 20 club and intramural sports at Stockton.
Congratulate President Kesselman and honor his passion and dedication with a gift to what the Kesselmans love most: the students!