UNION COUNTY, NJ — The state agency charged with overseeing waste and financial misconduct of taxpayer dollars is looking into whether Kean University followed the proper procedures when purchasing a $219,000 conference table from a company in China.
Kean President Dawood Farahi was the initiator of the purchase of the high-tech, high cost conference table, obtaining approval for the purchase from the Kean Board of Trustees.
However, this is not the first time the university president has blazed a trail of controversy. In fact, it is just one of many incidents, including the construction of buildings that remain half-filled with students, that have raised eyebrows.
According to sources in the New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office, the probe was launched after media reports that the state university, supported by taxpayer dollars, waived competitive bidding in order to buy the table from a company in China.
Shining a brighter fiscal light on the issue was former Democrat Assemblyman Joe Cryan, who represented the district Kean is located in until he stepped down to assume the elected role of Union County Sheriff. In November Cryan notified acting Attorney General John Hoffman about the purchase of the costly table by the university, requesting an investigation take place.
While the attorney general requested that the Comptroller’s Office launch a probe into the matter, eyebrows were raised again after LocalSource revealed Dec. 22 that taxpayer dollars were used to pay travel expenses, and room and board for two workers from the company in China where the table was made, according to the contract of sale Kean struck with Shanghai Rongma Office Furniture.
At issue is why these workers traveled 7,395 miles to the Kean campus in Union to install and then modify the 22-foot-diameter circular table when similar tables were available for purchase in the United States. Kean also paid for the workers return trip to China.
According to the agreement Kean signed with the Chinese manufacturing company, after the two workers installed the conference table, a third worker was flown in to make adjustments that were needed. However, this expense was paid for by the manufacturing company.
In mid-December LocalSource revealed that a little known law, The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, makes it unlawful for certain classes of people, including public universities, to make payments to foreign government officials.
Specifically, the idea behind the law was to make it illegal for companies, or any entity or person, to influence anyone with payments of money.
This law applies to anyone who has a certain degree of connection to the United States and engages in foreign corrupt practices in order to obtain or retain business, regardless what it is or who it is with.
Neither the attorney general or comptroller’s offices responded to inquires Monday regarding the probe, however, political sources indicated that the probe had been launched and was in the “preliminary stages.”
The table, installed last summer in the new Green Lane building on the Union campus, has been used, but according to Kean sources, it remains off-limits for students and faculty.
Meanwhile, faculty members bristled when asked about the conference table, pointing out that although the university president continues to laude Kean as a “world-class university,” there is nothing world class about the $330 million in debt that has piled up under his leadership. When Farahi was appointed president, Kean was only $124 million in debt.
But in addition to the debt, under Farahi the Middle States Commission put Kean on probation three years ago after it was found they were in violation of multiple standards.
Following probation being lifted and Kean achieving accreditation by Middle States, Farahi began in earnest to launch the Kean China campus. However, additional questions surfaced about Farahi’s efforts to cement his ties with the Chinese government when he announced last fall that the university would be opening a school of architecture at the Kean campus in Union, which was approved by the board of trustees.
Critics of the university president maintained this latest venture by the university president was largely driven by the Chinese government, who wanted the same architecture program at the Wenzhou campus. However, in order to provide this particular program, Kean had to first create one at the Union campus.
This raised a number of questions whether the Chinese government was actually determining what academic programs taxpayers in New Jersey were forced to support, rather than what students needed. At issue was the fact that just six miles down the road, NJIT has a school of architecture that has room for an additional 250 students.