UNION COUNTY, NJ — A Kean University alumnus agreed last week to subsidize the polarizing, $219,000 conference table residing in the school’s Green Lane conference center, where it has recouped $22,000 in rental fees since first being purchased in late 2014.
Retired businessman William Loehning, who graduated from Kean when it was still Newark State College in 1970, wrote a $250,000 check to underwrite the cost of the table, which has been a subject of derision for students, local activists and many detractors of University President Dawood Farahi.
During a ceremony scheduled for the spring, the conference center will be dedicated in honor of Loehning, who received Kean’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011.
“I am proud to lend my name to this symbol of Kean University’s transformation as the university moves forward with initiatives to prepare Kean students for careers in the global economy,” said Loehning via a statement by Kean, who now lives in Florida. “President Farahi envisioned a unique space that is truly world class in terms of function, style and technology. I hope my gift and the spectacular conference center itself attract more philanthropic investments in the University.”
Various businesses, regional leaders and non-profits rented the glass-enclosed conference center, which includes the 22-foot diameter conference table, in 2015 for meetings and retreats, according to a statement, allowing the school to earn back more than 10 percent of the table’s $219,000 cost.
That number caused a high-profile controversy to unfold when it was first made public, and the cost of the table has remained a sticking point for many. At a rally held last month outside Kean, members in a coalition of black ministers, civil rights activists and others honed in on the “infamous” conference table, saying it was purchased by an out-of-touch administration led by Farahi. The NAACP president used the table, and Farahi’s defense of the purchase — “why not” — to demand an independent audit of racial issues at Kean, where the protesters say there’s a “culture of fear” among black students and professors. When interviewed by The Record in November 2014, Farahi dismissed the issue, saying “it is small-minded to focus on the university buying a $200,000 table.”
Loehning, a former executive vice president at Fidelity Investments, credited Farahi’s bold leadership with helping to transform Kean’s campus in Union, according to a statement issued by the university.
“Bill Loehning is the epitome of the Kean success story,” said Farahi. “His leadership in the boardroom is equaled by his generosity and his devotion to the mission of the University. Like many of our students, Bill knows how hard it is to work your way through college. He is committed to doing all that he can to help the next generation of students manage that difficult balancing act.”