Board of trustees hands over report to Middle States Commission
By Cheryl Hehl, Staff Writer
With its monitoring report now in the hands of the agency that will determine whether Kean University is worthy of keeping the accreditation it held since 1960, university officials await a critical visit next week that could play heavily into the decision making process.
Since the state university was placed on probation July 2 by the Middle States
Commission on Higher Education, Kean officials have stressed they were working diligently to address the multiple standard violations that put the school’s accreditation in jeopardy.
Kean was put on probation by the commission because there was evidence the university was not in compliance with four of the 14 standards required to maintain accreditation. Those standards included 6, relating to integrity, 7, institutional assessment, 12 general education and 14, assessment of student learning.
Adding to the university’s problems, prior to the monitoring report being due to the accrediting agency, the commission sent a letter to Kean University president Dawood Farahi questioning issues involving standards 4, 10, 13 and 5. These standards specifically have to do with board of trustee policies involving the hiring of the university president, policies regarding faculty and staff and evidence the university is in compliance with the commissions policy on “Political Intervention in Education.”
Whether Middle States is questioning “political intervention” because of a letter sent to the accrediting agency in March by Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak, Republican Sen. Tom Kean and Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnik praising and supporting Farahi’s leadership is unknown. However, in the letter, which LocalSource was able to obtain, Lesniak was touted as being a “champion for the university for decades,” in addition to playing a key role in obtaining seed funding from the state to develop a multi-million dollar science, technology and math center at Kean.
However, previously, the Kean Federation of Teachers union also pointed out in missives to Middle States that Lesniak has used his political power to obtain key “no show” positions at the university for his sister, as well as highly paid jobs for others politically connected to him.
Although Sen. Kean refused to respond when LocalSource questioned him in the spring about issues involving Farahi falsifying his academic credentials, the letter sent in March, which was prior to this, makes it clear this legislative representative is a supporter of the university president.
Also, language used by Middle States on its own website updating Kean’s accreditation status June 28 and July 19 hinted that standards 4 and 5, which have to do with institutional governance and management, as well as “equitable and consistent treatment of faculty,” could be in question.
Despite this, Farahi assured those attending an emergency meeting held Aug. 30 by the Kean Board of Trustees that he was confident the monitoring report submitted Sept. 1 would result in Kean’s accreditation being restored.
“We are fully prepared for Middle States’ visit,” he said, referring to the two day on-site visit the commission will be making to Kean next Wednesday and Thursday. The visit is an important part of the process the commission undertakes to ensure an institution of higher learning actually is in compliance with the standards found to be in violation by a university.
In the report sent to Middle States, which was obtained by LocalSource, Kean officials noted they have made multiple changes on campus, including the addition of a new academic integrity policy along with various tools to measure how well students are learning. Also included were examples of how the university is performing its duties.
Among the many submissions included in the monitoring report was an example of the response received in a campus survey undertaken by Kean officials. Although there were only 56 responses to the survey, the text response from one was enlightening.
One of the questions the respondents was asked was for examples of an institutional practice that fostered respect among students, faculty, staff and administration. The answer did not put the university president or administration in a favorable light, though.
“Meetings with administrators are frustrating experiences marked by explicit disregard for faculty perspectives and expertise, demonstrating contempt for faculty and their ideas,” the respondent said, adding that Dr. Farahi always tells faculty “you are paid to do a job, so be glad you have one and stop whining.”
Another question requested the respondent to provide specific examples or initiatives that demonstrate cooperation and collaboration between faculty and administration, but again the response was a negative one.
“My peers and colleagues generally treat me and one another with respect but high administrators do not. They yell, threaten, don’t listen, are dismissive, arbitrarily and frequently change rules and procedures and don’t allow questioning or discussion,” the respondent said.
Despite the voluminous monitoring report that Kean officials insisted addressed all the standard violations that forced the state university to be put on probation by Middle States, faculty members, as well as others, are not as confident. They believe the problem goes much deeper and must be rectified by the board or things will continue to deteriorate at the university, regardless of Kean continuing their accreditation.