Table becomes symbol, catalyst for Kean unrest

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Recently uncovered emails show that the $219,000 conference table at Kean University, regularly used by protestors and detractors to paint the university’s administration as out-of-touch and clueless, had been ordered and shipped to Kean well before before it was publicly approved.

Kean’s embattled president, Dawood Farahi, apparently signed off on the polarizing table, according to a report from The Bergen-Record, even though trustees at the state school had yet to vote in favor of the purchase. The report shows that Farahi authorized construction of the table at least four months before the Kean board of trustees voted on May 12, 2014, to give him the authority to do so.

Kean’s $219,000 conference table has already become a popular symbol for protestors taking action against the university for what they believe to be “structural racism on campus,” including Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the St. James-AME Church in Newark, who recently led a coalition of black ministers and others in two outdoor rallies.

“The board’s oversight or lack of involvement concerning the purchase of the table is indicative of the board’s failure to do its job,” said Slaughter, in response to the report on the $219,000 conference table. “Once again, the coalition has stated in its structural racism research that money is spent on vanity projects rather than on a ‘world class education’ that the president boasts about. This is about the board’s failure to do basic oversight. If it can’t even get the basics right, how can we expect it to police itself on issues like racism and discrimination? This just proves the need for an outside, independent oversight.”

At the coalition’s first rally in December, when protesters marched down Morris Avenue outside of Kean, Slaughter pointed to the Green Lane building where Farahi “spends a lot of time,” saying that the “infamous” $219,000 table rested inside. Another leader of the rally, NAACP President Richard Smith, used the table to highlight the activists’ demand for an independent audit of racial issues at Kean.

“Farahi told the staff writer who interviewed him about the purchase of that table, that it was ‘small-minded’ to focus on the purchase of a table. Well the staff writer said, ‘why’d you buy it? Why’d you buy it, Farahi?’ And he said, ‘why not,’” said Smith, who also called out State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a longtime ally of Farahi. “Well, president Farahi, and you, too, Sen. Lesniak, we want you to have the same response as we stand here today demanding that a comprehensive, independent investigation occur at the university. Tell us what you told the reporter: Why not?”
With Slaughter at the helm, ministers and activists have repeatedly called for the resignation of Farahi — who has been at Kean since 2003 — and say they intend to keep up their fight with the university’s administration for a long time, or at least until they get results.

Last month, a Kean University alumnus agreed to subsidize the $219,000 conference table, which has also recouped $22,000 in rental fees. 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 in early January.

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