UNION COUNTY — The Kean Federation of Teachers recently discovered efforts by Kean President Dawood Farahi to create a school of architecture at the Union campus has been driven largely by the Chinese government, which wants the program at the university’s Wenzhou branch.
According to a memo circulated to KFT members in late August, Farahi first brought the issue of a school of architecture up to the Kean Board of Trustees in September 2013 during an executive session, which is closed to the public.
The minutes revealed, according to the memo, that Farahi supports creation of a school of architecture at the Union campus because Middle States, which has accreditation requirements, prohibits a branch campus from offering a program that is not offered at a university’s main campus.
“The Board of Trustees made it clear that the decision to create a School of Architecture at Kean University is being driven by the desires of the communist Chinese government,” Castiglione said in his memo.
The KFT had a major problem with this and said so in their memo.
“In order to be able to provide an architecture program in China, we have to create one in New Jersey. The academic tail is wagging the dog,” said KFT President James Castiglione in the memo to KFT members, which number well over 300.
“This arrangement raises a number of questions. First there is the specter of the Chinese government determining what academic programs the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey will be forced to support and what programs we will be offering our students here,” said the KFT President, adding “faculty control over the curriculum, a bedrock principle underpinning academic integrity at all colleges and universities, is compromised when foreign governments drive decision making on American campuses for their own economic and political interests.”
Castiglione questioned the effect the “huge costs” associated with this major undertaking will have on existing academic programs offered to New Jersey students. He also provided some facts about the success of such a program.
“Given that architecture has one of the highest unemployment rates of any profession and that New Jersey already has two prominent programs at Princeton and NJIT, there doesn’t appear to be any demand for this program, other than that of the Chinese government,” the KFT president said.
The board of trustees also approved a resolution during the summer naming the new school the Michael Graves School of Architecture. Graves is a world-renowned architect based in Princeton where he has the position of emeritus professor of architecture at Princeton University.
“Given his relationship with Princeton, many wondered why he would affiliate with Kean University, especially in light of recent academic scandals,” Castiglione said, but added that articles appearing in China in June shed more light on this particular question.
One article published June 23 mentioned that Chinese Municipal Party Secretary Chen Yixin met with Graves, noting that the Princeton professor planned to build a college of architecture and design at the Wenzhou Kean University campus and make it “a world famous one, so that people around the world will come to learn architectural design in Wenzhou.”
“This makes it clear that the primary beneficiary is the China campus, not ‘Kean USA,’” said the KFT president.
The second article, Castiglione said, pointed to Graves involvement as a consultant “in the planning and construction” of the university campus in China, which noted he would “personally design the buildings” for the new college of architecture and design at Wenzhou Kean University.
“It’s quite conceivable that the university has entered into some sort of business relationship with Michael Graves,” Castiglione said, mentioning that it would be understandable that the Graves firm would view access to the burgeoning Chinese market via the Kean Chinese campus “as a very valuable avenue for growth in addition to the potentially large architectural project for the university itself.”