Kean University likely to keep accreditation

President's contract extended; Faculty cautiously optimistic

For the moment, Kean is no longer in the spotlight, having received a positive review by a visiting team from the Middles States Commission on Higher Education, and faculty members remain cautiously optimistic about the school’s future.

In the wake of news last week that Middle States Commission on Higher Education found Kean University in compliance with the four standards violated, Monday night the Kean Board of Trustees unanimously approved extending university president Dawood Farahi’s contract for five years.

Farahi, 63, who earns $293,550 annually, is still eligible for a $200,000 retention bonus when his current contract expires in July, 2013. The board’s resolution approving the extended contract also clearly pointed out there was strong support behind the university president continuing his tenure at Kean.

“The board of trustees believes that Dr. Dawood Farahi is best positioned to continue to lead Kean University in a time of globalization, economic uncertainty and the need for innovative educational leadership,” the resolution noted.

Farahi issued a statement after the vote, pointing out that he will continue to work so Kean reaches new heights.

“Together, we will continue to transform Kean into a world-class university,” Farahi said. “With the collaborative effort of the faculty, staff, administration and the board, I am certain Kean University will reach even greater heights. We remain true to our mission of access and excellence, and working together, we will empower every one of our students to realize their potential and achieve their dreams.”

However, despite both the board and Farahi having confidence in what lies ahead, Kean still remains on probation and will not receive re-accreditation until Middle States makes a decision in November.

At a meeting open only to the Kean campus community Friday, the Middle States visiting team told a packed auditorium at the new multi-million dollar Kean Science, Technology and Mathematics building the university was no longer in violation of the four standards that brought about probation.

As a result of the violations Kean was placed on probation July 2 by the accrediting agency. In order to receive re-accreditation, all universities must comply with 14 standards. Middle States will decide in November if Kean remains on probation or will call for the university to “show cause” why Kean should not lose accreditation. But it will be March before final word comes down from Middle States regarding the accreditation Kean has held since 1960.

Every ten years all accredited institutions undergo an 18- to 24-month period of self-study intended to demonstrate compliance with accreditation standards as well as promote improvement. If a state university loses accreditation students can no longer receive federal financial aid, student loans or be involved with the college work  program. In addition Kean would no longer be able to obtain federal  grants of any kind and students with partial degrees would have to transfer to another university

Sources attending the meeting Friday said the Middle States visiting team stressed that while the university had made great progress, there still were problems that had to be addressed.

For example, one source said Middle States indicated there were issues involving assessment and procedures at the university that needed further work.

“Middle States wanted Kean to deal more with the impact of what we do here, not increases and decreases in student population or how revenue is being spent,” the faculty source said.

“Bottom line, no one wants to see this university lose accreditation, so whatever we have to do, we will do,” said the source who still believes university President Dawood Farahi is the reason Kean ended up on probation.

Monday at the Kean Board of Trustees meeting it was evident the majority of those in attendance, including faculty, were relieved after the Middle States visit.

Hearing the university was no longer in violation of the four standards, which included integrity, institutional assessment, general education and assessment of student learning, ushered in strong resolve by all to work together for the sake of the university.

According to one source it is unlikely Middle States will ask for a “show cause” because the university worked to ensure the school complied with all the problems found by the accrediting agency last year during a routine visit.

Other sources said Steven Sweeny, Chair of the Middle States visiting team,  specifically stressed that on their visit Sept. 13 the team was interested in small, targeted interviews with representatives from as many constituencies as possible.  According to university faculty and administrative sources, multiple groups were randomly selected for these interviews but the visiting team also asked to meet with certain individuals. After Middle States’ exit report Friday morning, many of these factions felt the university was moving in a new, positive direction. But not everyone.

Since last year the Kean Federation of Teachers union, Kean University Adjunct Faculty Federation AFT Local 6024 and the faculty senate, felt new leadership was needed at the university. This human cry became even more fervent after the KFT found errors on the president’s academic resume.

Farahi eventually admitted mistakes were made on old versions of his resume, but by a narrow margin the board backed Farahi last spring, but on Monday they did so overwhelmingly with the contract renewal.

KFT President James Castiglione admitted to the board Monday, prior to the unanimous vote to renew Farahi’s contract for five years, that the KFT was pleased faculty, staff and all participants had moved towards compliance. But other remarks he made suggested there were problems that remained unresolved for years.

“We look forward to a new era of constructive engagement that continues the progress that has been made in addressing the university’s issues to allow greater focus on our student needs,” Castiglione said, adding that “in particular, we hope there will be a new era of collaborative labor management relations.”

(See related story: Many speak in favor of Kean president at Board meeting)

To that end, the KFT president said he would be introducing proposals that were originally suggested by the union legal counsel as having a track record of success in conflict resolution. Castiglione brought up two of these proposals — the establishment of board labor relations subcommittee and the appointment of an independent mediator — adding that these suggestions were previously brought up to the board in 2009.

Castiglione also admitted the campus “has never been this unified over the issues that we face and the path to move the university forward.” But he also felt the university could stumble if not careful.

“This new culture of openness and respect is fragile and needs nurturing, particularly via the ongoing support of the board,” he said, adding many of the issues the KFT identified in the past to strengthen the university “are the same ones identified by Middle States.”

The KFT has continued to call for new leadership at the university, issuing no confidence votes in the president after it was uncovered that Farahi had falsified his academic resume. However, Castiglione said Farahi’s “willingness to hire new faculty members, professional staff and librarians “is a step towards directing more resources into the classroom where they most directly help our students.”

“We hope a new era of constructive engagement is forthcoming in the best interests of the university and our students,” the KFT president said.

Kathleen Mary Henderson, President of the Kean University Adjunct Faculty Federation, which has more than 1,000 members, was less sure Kean was heading down the right track. Remarking that when she received an email Friday from a senior Kean administrator after Middle States gave the exit report saying “this is a new day,” she was taken back.

“I for one really want to believe that, but you have to forgive this union leader’s ‘little’ skepticism,” she said, adding that “all the little inconsistencies, fabrications and embellishments of facts” discovered along the way were and remain cause for concern.

“What was uncovered cannot and will not go away. No matter what Middle States says, we still have to live with the discoveries every day of what was uncovered,” Henderson told the board, bringing up that the university is now “renowned nationwide for being such a tight knit family here at Kean.”

“One only has to look at our August board of trustees and the Kean China board to see how well we keep things ‘in the family.’ We have a board made up of current legislators, business partners, superintendents of local district schools where we place our own students for student teaching, law firm experts, alumnae and a secret weapon, the secretary of the board of trustees of the Middle States Association,” Henderson said. But the adjunct professor union leader had one final blow to bestow on the board.

“And, as I end, let me not forget our own private ‘godfathers’, Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Gov. Chris Christie, who like good godfathers make sure things are run as they expect things to be run — their way,” she added.