UNION COUNTY — Kean is no stranger to controversy in recent years, and yet it still came as a shock to local officials when the The Record broke the story late Sunday night at www.NorthJersey.com about a conference table, purchased by Kean University, for the large sum of $219,024.
And immediately, there were reactions from local officials taking strong issue with what they called an exorbitant cost.
Assemblyman and Union County Sheriff-elect Joe Cryan was quick to slam the university on Monday morning.
“The fact that Kean University spent $219,000 on a conference table shows how broken New Jersey’s higher education system has become,” he said via an email release. “Kean charges about $11,000 for tuition and fees for in-state students, so consider that $219,000 would equate to full scholarships for about 20 New Jersey students.”
Cryan continued to hammer the university in his release, saying that a “fancy conference table” should not be a higher priority than educating students, “but priorities are out-of-whack here.”
Cryan went on to say he has asked the attorney general to review the bid process used by the school, but was assertive of his opinion of the price tag.
“Whether or not this is legal, it’s certainly not ethical and it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” he said, saying he did not need a study to tell him so.
“I already know it’s wrong,” he said. “So do the students and families struggling to afford a higher education.”
Marsha McCarthy, the spokesperson for Kean University, defended the school against Cryan’s statements.
“Joe Cryan has not asked Kean for information about the waivers, the specifications which include electronic equipment in the purchase price, our planned use for the conference center, or our plan to offset the cost through facility rental,” McCarthy told LocalSource late Monday night.
McCarthy also explained some of the features of the very large roundtable.
“To clarify, the ‘table’ is a conferencing center. The total estimated cost of the mixed-media conferencing center is $219,024, and includes the conferencing table itself, all of the electronic components, a console to store the electronic equipment, and the lighting element — all of which are built into the table.”
According to McCarthy, the conference table was designed, built, delivered and installed by Shanghai Rongma Office Furniture in China. It is Oakwood with a cherry veneer and is a “2-tier conferencing center” with a cylinder mosaic stainless steel decoration and a “motorized turntable peripheral with glass overlay with a service life of 30 years,” according to specifications provided by McCarthy.
The table also includes an “intelligent conferencing system” with the ability to connect up to 60 units; the ability to tandem a device for remote conference calls; a meeting recording interface with multi-channel audio input and output ports; 23 gooseneck microphones; wireless microphones; Bose conference speakers; power outlet panels; video input outlets; an amplifier; an equalizer and a feedback suppressor; among other amenities. The table is 22 feet in diameter and seats 23.
Mayor Clifton People of Union was also quick to attack Kean because of the hefty cost.
“I’m looking at a picture of this table now,” the mayor said. “It’s just outlandish to me when I know a lot of people out there could use that money for education. That money could be used for grants for minorities and those who cannot afford tuition. I think money that is available should be spent on students, and that appears to not be happening.”