What Do You Do With A Problem?
I was recently invited to read a book to three first-grade classes at Paterson Public School #5 right near Hinchliffe Stadium. I’ve done this annually since coming to WP as part of the Real Men Read initiative and it is one the highlights of my year. This year Principal Ventura asked me to read the award-winning children’s book, What Do You Do With a Problem?
As I reflected on the book’s themes—problems often grow large in our minds; we find ourselves overwhelmed and consumed by them; one can reframe problems as opportunities to do something that sometimes only comes once; and we can turn problems into something good—I was reminded of the context in which I would be reading. The community around Public School #5 is one of the poorest in Paterson and approximately 80 percent of the school’s children qualify for free or reduced lunch. Furthermore, nearly all the students are non-White. As I arrived at the multistory school with a tall fence surrounding it, including a parking lot on what appeared to be the only recess location, I followed a mom and her daughter into the school, mentally noting two things. First, school had already started for the day and some life circumstance had prevented the child from getting to school on time. Second, elementary school reading achievement by the third grade is a significant predictor of a variety of outcomes, including college attendance. No pressure there to deliver on my task.
Warmly welcomed by my hosts, I entered each classroom, being introduced like a rock star (not at all what I am, but I get why it is important to frame every outside guest to a classroom that way). Digging deep into even my deep well of enthusiasm, I spoke briefly about me, what I do, and that like their Dr. Principal, wasn’t the type that could fix a broken leg but one who cared about teaching and learning A LOT. From there, I launched into the book, pausing for dramatic effect in the appropriate spots, and ensuring inflection of voice to emphasize a point. Then the moment of truth: asking them what problems are, how they think about them, and what makes for an opportunity. Leading with a personal problem of mine—getting lost recently and rather than driving around and around, asking someone for help and how successfully that “opportunity” turned into my finding my way—it got them to open up with examples too. I closed by reading a short poem in celebration of World Poetry Day that had all the right funny rhyming words about why one should be glad that their nose is on their face (click here if you’d enjoy a little levity).
I hope in some small way, I inspired young people to not only read, but to believe in themselves and their ability to overcome problems. I am, however, not naïve enough to believe that hard work is simply the answer. I was reminded of this when, chatting afterwards with the principal (who is an extraordinary asset to that school), he had to slip away to take a call on how they were going to help a family whose home burned down that week. I was also reminded that the brothers and sisters of some of these children are in high school, and perhaps confronted with the tragic internal narrative, “Am I cut out for college?” Yet, some are also in college (a few hands went up when I asked this), and I want us to have more of them. They need us and we need them, and our state and nation does too.
In his new book, Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond writes, “Poverty isn’t simply the condition of not having enough money. It’s the condition of not having enough choice.” Whereas we may have our own problems—not enough state funding comes immediately to mind for me—we are privileged to have the opportunity to be employed in higher education. Let’s work to make it a choice option for youth and adults, the stats on third grade reading be damned.
Academic News
Call for Faculty Mentors. Our Faculty as Mentors Initiative phases in starting Fall 2023. Departments who enroll undergraduates are asked to reflect on who might serve in this capacity, which will begin with sophomores. Department chairs have the details, also available on the Provost’s Office website. Our first gathering of mentors, together with other Student Success Team members, will be on the morning of May 23.
Calling All Faculty – Commencement Sign-Up. Commencement is our most important academic event each year. Many have signed up; more need to do so. Attending at least one ceremony is requested. Details can be found here.
Certificates and Badges Moving Forward Through Governance. A first set of Certificates and Badges has made its way to Faculty Senate. Department and College governance councils, thank you for your efforts at shepherding and sharpening these proposals as they move forward. As a reminder, here are details on ideas that are in various stages of development.
Latin Honors Ceremonies. New this year are a Latin Honors Ceremonies where we will award graduating students who have achieved the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. Faculty are invited to attend. There will be three ceremonies in Shea on Sunday, May 7 as follows: cum laude, 12 noon; magna cum laude, 3 p.m.; and summa cum laude, 6 p.m.
Faculty Research & Grant Incentive Program. Applications are available now and found on the Provost’s Office website. Due April 17.

Congratulations to Professors Neil Kressel, Carrie Hong, and David Weisberg who were selected as this year’s recipients of Faculty Excellence Awards in Research/Scholarship/Creative Expression, Service, and Teaching respectively! They will be honored at Commencement.
Facts & Figures
  • 503,811 to 484,712, or 7.2 percent. The decline in fall total enrollment headcount in New Jersey in the past 3 years. (Just updated through academic year 2021-22; 2022-23 academic year number anticipated in summer 2023.)

  • 32 percent to 17 percent to 15 percent to 29 percent. Percentage of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors at WP who do not return, and thus do not graduate. Freshmen and sophomores leave more commonly for reason of transfer (more often to community colleges than 4-year colleges) while juniors and seniors tend to stop out or drop out, often for financial reasons.

  • $30,000 and $44,000. The estimated minimum wasted investment of a junior or senior who stops out or drops out of WP and does not complete their degree.
“The poor do not want some small life. They don't want to game the system or eke out an existence; they want to thrive and contribute.”
“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”  
— Bryan Stevenson, Founder & Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative
“Where you live should not determine whether you live, or whether you die.”
Bono, lead singer of U2
The Provost’s Office is Claudia T., Claudia C., Jonathan, Kara, Rhonda, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 • [email protected]
Office of the Provost | 973.720.2122 | [email protected]