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TESU Panel Tackles Topic of Informed Civic Engagement

Informed Civic Engagement: Discerning Fact from Fiction Panelists

Pictured left to right: Dr. Malcolm Oliver, Dr. Tara Kent, Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, Anthony “Skip” Cimino and Kevin Drennan.

Each year Thomas Edison State University (TESU) celebrates its ascension to University status on Dec. 1, the date of its official name change from college to university in 2015.

In response to a university’s charge to promote dialogue, open minds and encourage critical thinking, University Day provides TESU with an opportunity to take a deep dive into issues that affect the crossroads between society and higher education. This year the University presented “Informed Civic Engagement: Discerning Fact from Fiction, Cutting through the Rhetoric, and Understanding the Value of Our Differences.”

Dr. Malcolm Oliver, dean of the John S. Watson School of Public Service, moderated the conversation between Anthony “Skip” Cimino, former executive director, N.J. General Assembly; Kevin Drennan, former executive director, N.J. Senate; and Dr. Tara Kent, associate dean and director of Undergraduate Studies, Heavin School of Arts, Sciences, and Technology. The discussion, presented both virtually via social media livestreams and in-person on the TESU campus, centered on how public officials can work across the aisle to effectively solve problems and the need for an informed citizenry in a Democracy.

Thomas Edison has been thinking about informed civic engagement and how students might navigate an environment seemingly poised to create conflict and foster division for some time. In response to the need, the University recently created an introductory course: “Fact, Fiction or Fake? Information Literacy Today,” which is now required of all incoming undergraduate students.

“Misinformation can impact every aspect of our lives,” Kent explained as part of the panel discussion. “TESU designed this course to cultivate in our students both critical thinking and information literacy skills to empower them in their abilities to use reliable sources of information in weighing opposing arguments and positions.”

As experienced civil servants, Cimino and Drennan shared experiences in building consensus to pass controversial bills such as legalizing cannabis and the elimination of cash bail.

“We have our challenges cut out for us,” concluded Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, president of TESU, summing up the session. “But ultimately, civility — from the Latin word “civilis,” which relates to public life and civic order — is about engaging in respectful debate and exchanges of ideas. I think it is important to cut through the rhetoric to appreciate where people come from.”