Kean hires consultant to review employment practices at university

UNION COUNTY, NJ — A consultant selected by a Kean University committee will be evaluating the school’s employment practices, which have come under fire from demonstrators who allege a culture of discrimination is alive and well at Kean.

A veteran in compliance reviews, Rev. Michael Blackwell, has been selected by the university’s Board Governance Committee for the consultation, according to Kean student newspaper The Tower. Blackwell will be focusing on affirmative action procedures.

Among the protesters who have marched against Kean’s employment policies are a coalition of black ministers, including Rev. Ronald Slaughter, of the St James-AME Church in Newark, and James Castiglione, the president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.

At two separate rallies over the past several months, Slaughter, Castiglione and dozens of others have said that Kean puts its minority students at a disadvantage by underfunding full-time teachers and support services. They’ve demanded the resignation of Kean University President Dawood Farahi and marched outside of the office of Farahi’s longtime ally, State Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

But another criticism of Kean, from the protesters, is that the school employs an unrepresentative number of minority professors and, in 2011, unfairly fired a set of mostly female and minority teachers. In November 2015, Kean reached a $75,000 settlement with one of those professors, who said she felt “coerced” into retirement because of her age, gender and race.

Kean admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. But it was one of the reasons Slaughter founded his coalition, and he won’t stop demonstrating against Kean as a result of Blackwell’s emergence.

The coalition will keep going, he says, until the university is subject to an independent investigation, rather than “the hiring of an insider by a board that has demonstrated, time and time again, that it sees no evil and hears no evil.”

“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract the public from the fact that Kean University has wrongly terminated African-American faculty and staff, has increasingly relied on adjuncts instead of tenured faculty, and has reduced services for at-risk students,” said Slaughter.

Rather than accepting the selection of Blackwell, Slaughter is pushing for a separate investigation to be conducted, this one by someone hand-picked by State Sen. Ronald Rice. At the coalition’s first rally in December, Rice gave a speech saying racial issues at Kean are “nothing new” to him.

“We do not trust this board to police itself,” said Slaughter. “Is it the normal practice of Kean U to choose a ‘minister’ to conduct an audit, or did they choose a clergy person thinking it would silence the Minister’s Coalition? If so, they are wrong.”

Over the past couple of months, Kean has repeatedly denied Slaughter’s charges against the school and has characterized him as misguided, politically motivated and disconnected from the school’s
community.

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