In a short period of time, Andres Acebo has had a meteoric rise from interim chief of staff and secretary to the board in 2021 to interim President of New Jersey City University (NJCU) in 2023 for 24 months. Acebo also served as assistant university counsel, and most recently as Executive Vice President and University Counsel before being elevated to the presidency. At the age of 37, Acebo is the youngest known president to ever lead a public university in the State of New Jersey.
Upon graduation from Rutgers Law School, Acebo clerked for the Honorable Jonathan N. Harris, J.A.D. (retired) in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. He then entered private practice, with the Teaneck, NJ firm of DeCotiis FitzPatrick Cole & Giblin where he counseled and represented governmental entities, higher education institutions and public school districts, and closely-held corporations. His practice focused on employment and labor, education law, and government/public entity law. He was also regularly retained by governmental entities to conduct independent special investigations into alleged public official and employee misconduct and adverse employment actions.
NJCU has been undergoing major financial difficulties. As noted in the announcement of Acebo’s appointment, “Since the announcement of the financial emergency, Acebo has demonstrated significant executive leadership. Facing a more than $20 million deficit, he collaborated with NJCU’s organized labor, stakeholders, and constituencies to reduce the deficit by more than 50 percent within 120 days, while leading with empathy and compassion about the mission of the university and those who serve it. Acebo has worked diligently with NJCU’s other senior leaders, external stakeholders, and entities, including the bond rating agencies which has resulted in the removal of the University from the rating agency’s negative watch. His efforts with the senior leadership of NJCU’s academic affairs division has led to developing an academic rightsizing framework that honors collective bargaining rights and creates a pathway for reallocation of resources and an updated academic portfolio. He also has worked with the Division of Academic Affairs to affirm NJCU’s Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) accreditation while working with Senator Menendez and our congressional delegation to identify significant future federal aid which will provide equitable access to high demand online nursing education.”
Among Acebo’s many accomplishments outside of NJCU, the announcement notes, “Acebo has been recognized as a Rising Star by New Jersey Super Lawyers, a Top Latino Lawyer by Latino Leaders Magazine, a Top Lawyer under 40 by the Hispanic National Bar Association, and as a Diverse Attorney of the Year by the New Jersey Law Journal. In Fall 2022, he was recognized as a 2022 “Latinos 40 Under 40” award recipient by Negocios Now, in recognition of leadership by young Latinos in the New York metropolitan area. This fall, Acebo was also honored by the Boys Scouts of America-North Jersey Council with the 2022 Good Scout Award, in reflection of his service to his community. He currently serves as a Deputy Regional President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and Chair of the Special Committee on Cuba. He serves on the board of the Cuban American Alliance for Leadership and Education (CAALE) — a non-profit board that serves first-generation students in the NJCU community.”
Profiled in the NJ Law Journal in 2019, Acebo’s advice to others was, "Focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. Invest your time in causes that drive progress. You have a moral obligation to use your influence to lift others. Don’t wait until you have 'arrived' … lift as you climb." In an interview with Hispanic Executive in 2021 Acebo said about his initial appointment with NJCU, “I’m now working in service of a public anchor institution—a federally recognized, minority-serving, and Hispanic-serving university in the county that raised me and shaped me,” Acebo explains. “The part that I love so much about being a lawyer is being an advocate, a problem-solver, and a strategic partner. I love preparing and navigating legal arguments to protect and defend individual interests and positions.”
Appointments to college presidencies for people in their 30s is rare, but not unheard of. For example, lawyer Ellen Futter became president of Barnard when she was 30. In both cases these leaders had been involved with leadership positions at both institutions.