Board of Education candidate holds presentation at Rutgers, his alma mater
Yousef Saleh, a Rutgers graduate and current candidate for Jersey City's Board of Education, returned to his college stomping grounds and spoke at Rutgers last week. He touched on his campaign and the challenges of running for public office.
The talk was hosted by RU Progressive, a student organization that began in response to the 2016 presidential election.
RU Progressive routinely hosts politicians running for office in New Jersey, said Rishi Mehta, the vice president and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
The group has a routine — after the guest speaks, they leave the room while the board members decide whether to endorse their candidacy.
“What we realized after the presidential election was that the best way to start fighting back was to start working on downslate candidates and getting them elected to office, and until 2020 that's what we're gonna do,” Mehta said.
Mehta said that RU Progressive began in 2016 as Rutgers for Bernie, so the group holds to Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) brand of political progressivism. Therefore, the group reserves the right to withdraw its support for a candidate if the group finds later that the candidate does uphold progressive values.
To this point, Saleh said his disagreement with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's “voucherization” of public schools, which would incentivize parents to enroll their children in private schools with a voucher to discount tuition.
“It is not my place to tell a parent where to send their child. However, I do not think that voucherizing the public school system is a way to strengthen the public school system,” Saleh said. “Why? Because it takes money out of the public school system. If you have everyone sending their kids out and that money gets taken out of the public school system, that's not gonna make it any better. On the flip side, money is not the sole cure for the public school system either.”
Saleh said that since graduating from Rutgers Law School he has worked as an associate at JP Morgan, where he specializes in issues related to money laundering. This is his first time running for public office.
“I saw that they needed a strong student voice on the Board of Ed,” Saleh said. “Someone who's old enough to be seasoned while young enough to understand what children need in the 21st century. The stuff that they're teaching them now ... it's not gonna help them when they go to college. We need to be giving them the tools they need, the resources they need, to succeed.”
Saleh said that the current board of education members does not advocate strongly enough for important issues, that time is wasted at board meetings because not all members understand the standard parliamentary procedures and that what measures are taken are too often insufficient.
He specifically mentioned an initiative to incorporate computer coding into schools' curriculum. Saleh said that in reality, Jersey City students only learn basic HTML.
He also spoke about the inequality among Jersey City's school districts.
“There are certain children in certain zip codes that basically it's a coin toss whether they're gonna graduate or not, whether they're gonna get jobs or not, or just be able to sustain themselves,” Saleh said. "This is not how it's supposed to be. There are schools that are succeeding and all those kids go to college, and there are certain schools that are not. It's dependent upon zip code. I want to change that. I want for every child in Jersey City to have a fighting chance – and not just a chance, because you have a chance when you roll the dice at Atlantic City. I want to give them the skill set they need to succeed.”
Saleh said that he gained early experiences in politics as a student at Rutgers.
“In the quads, there was no swipe access in the tunnels, and I thought that was something that someone should do something about,” Saleh said.
After the unification of Rutgers' various schools, Saleh became the first democratically elected president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA).
In 2010 he led a protest against former University President Richard McCormick's proposed 10 percent tuition increase. Saleh said that when negotiations broke down, he and other protesters occupied the president's office and contacted media outlets. As a result, that year saw the lowest tuition increase in three decades.
Returning to campus to speak was an emotional experience, he said.
“I caught the feels walking down the campus. I'm not gonna lie, I started to tear up a little bit,” Saleh said. “It's like Simba coming back to the Pride Lands. Thankfully, it looks a lot better than what he found when he got there.”