UNION COUNTY — It appears Kean University may have left out all the costs associated with bringing that $219,024 conference table to the Union campus and setting it up.
According to the “furniture procurement agreement” Kean forged with the Shanghai Rongma Office Furniture Company in China, which was obtained through the Open Public Records Act, the university paid for more than just the expensive conference table when they signed on the dotted line.
According to the agreement, Kean agreed to pay travel expenses, transportation fees, board and lodging for two Shanghai Rongma workers to come 7,395 miles to the Union campus to install the “conferencing center” that has a five-year guarantee.
This cost, though, is unknown because the agreement did not designate a specific dollar ceiling that could be spent on this allocation of taxpayer dollars. The agreement was approved by the Kean Board of Trustees.
Kean also paid all the expenses for the workers to fly home to China. However, according to the agreement, the furniture company did pay for all visa applications.
Shanghai Rongma was responsible for a third worker to fly to the United States, paying that person’s travel, transportation fees, board and lodging expenses. The procurement agreement also noted Shanghi Rongma “bears the full cost for transporting the conference table to Kean, U.S.A.’s designated location, including bank charges, export taxes, commodity inspections, customs charges, freights, marine insurances, tariffs, stevedore charges and all related fees.”
Confusing is that in another part of the agreement, it specifically mentions that Kean would reimburse Wenzhou-Kean Campus in China for “shipping and other expenses” related to the table. It is unclear why the Union campus reimbursed the Kean China campus for shipping the table when it clearly stated in the agreement Shanghi Rongma was completely responsible for those expenses.
All three workers installed the table in the Green Lane Building, which was found to not fit in the room adequately.
At this point Kean University drafted and signed an “Amended Furniture Agreement,” for “modifications” for “replacement parts.”
Total amount of this contract to be paid to the furniture company was $67,804, which the Wenzhou-Kean China campus paid and Kean, U.S.A. agreed to reimburse them. This additional expense brought the total price up to $219,024.
The second time around Shanghi Rongma paid for one worker to fly to the Kean campus in Union to install the replacement parts necessary so the table would fit the designated space correctly.
Meanwhile, backlash from Kean purchasing the expensive conference table continued last week when Kean Adjunct Faculty Federation-AFT Local 6024 President Kathleen Henderson continued to question the decision.
Specifically, Henderson, an adjunct professor at Kean for over 20 years, had a lot to say about the reasoning behind the university saying they could rent out the Green Lane room containing the conference table and view of New York city skyline.
“Kean is first and foremost an institution of higher education, not a rental property agency with a full staff costing taxpayers almost half a million to manage the rental property between event staff, communications staff, etc,” she said in an email communication to the more than 1,000 adjunct staff at Kean.
Henderson said the public and student leaders were made to believe that instead of flying students and faculty regularly from the Kean Union campus to Wenzhou-Kean in China that the university would save money by using the conferencing center.
“And voila, that justifies all the taxpayer money on this imitation of a United Nations table,” she said, adding that the university could have done this before by using the Esterbrook Conference Room.
“What no one is factoring in with this conference table folly is the thousands it cost to reinforce the flooring, the shipping costs, cost to have the table reassembled, the outsourced electrical and communication experts hired to hook up the table and most importantly the loss of our most precious commodity, student faculty parking, each time they rent out the facility,” Henderson said.
“I had to ask myself, what was so wrong with the Esterbrook room that we had to waste taxpayer money on this folly? The Esterbrook room had most of the same conferencing capability without fancy video monitors and posh swivel chairs,” she said, adding that “a simple upgrade to that particular room could have saved almost a half million taxpayer dollars.”
Henderson said there are roughly 15,000 students and another 1,500 faculty and staff, the majority of which will never go beyond the first floor of the newly built Green Lane building above the Barnes and Noble campus store.
Other fallout late last week involved the Elizabeth Board of Education who called on the Kean University Board of Trustees to reverse its actions on the purchase of the conference table.
“Spending such a large amount of money on a piece of furniture shocks the senses,” said Board of Education President Tony Monteiro. “Those families who struggle to support and finance the education of their children at taxpayer financed institutions like Kean deserve to have an answer as to how this university can continue down this path of reckless spending and largesse.”
The Elizabeth Board of Education passed a resolution calling on the Kean Board of Trustees and Kean President Dawood Farahi “to sell the table in an effort to recoup the funds so the money can be applied to tuition reduction and help address other necessary services like parking at the campus.”
“We believe that a priority should be placed on the needs of the students and not on projects that have little relevance to the quality of education,” Monteiro said, adding “Kean’s $2.5 million restaurant and other vanity projects have shifted limited resources away from what is needed the most, like providing an affordable college education. That needs to be the university’s main focus.”
Monteiro also called on Democrat Sen. Ray Lesniak to join other leaders and officials who have spoken out against the purchase of the $219,000 table.
Finally, Politifax, a political information source in New Jersey, put Kean University on its “Losers of the Year” list.