UNION COUNTY — It will not be a merry Christmas for six Kean University professors who will lose their positions at the university at the end of the year.
Despite hours of impassioned pleas by faculty members and students, the Kean University Board of Trustees went along with recommendations of the administration and university President Dawood Farahi to deny tenure to the six professors who have held probationary status for five years.
The board did not make a statement regarding the decision, moving on with other items on the agenda immediately following the vote.
Kean Federation of Teachers President James Castiglione, who represents the university’s tenured faculty members, felt the decision would compromise the school’s academic standards.
“I think it is shameful that any board would not provide any reason for their decision after all the public outcry that was heard,” said the KFT president.
By voting down tenure for the six employees, the board unanimously supported Farahi’s belief that tenure “is not an entitlement,” and should not be given out lightly at a state university.
In October, eight out of the ten professors and administrators up for tenure received a negative recommendation for reappointment from Kean President of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Toney.
Kean Federation of Teachers President James Castiglione was baffled by this decision.
“These professors received unanimous or near unanimous votes in their departmental and college levels,” the KFT president said in early November, admitting he did not understand the rationale of such a move.
Although the professors involved appealed the decision to Farahi, he later released a two-page statement regarding the issue of tenure.
“The collective bargaining representative may consider tenure an automatic right, but the administration and the board of trustees take the tenure process seriously,” the university president said, adding that “a lifetime job in the university system is not an entitlement, it has to be earned. That is our responsibility to our students and to the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
Although the Kean Federation of Teachers union mobilized to defend the integrity of academics and tenure at the embattled university, their efforts were in vain.
The board meeting, held Saturday at Kean’s satellite campus in Toms River, drew busloads of faculty and students from the Union campus. Once the meeting began at 10 a.m. there was a continual line of speakers stepping to the podium to plea for the board to override the decision by Farahi and Toney. Most let their anger and frustration out on Farahi, defending the professors who will lose their jobs as a result of not receiving tenure.
One professor had bitter words for the board.
“This is not the world-class education we advertise. This is an academic crime,” said Richard Katz, a professor in the English Department where there are over 100 adjunct instructors but only 17 tenured professors.
Other speakers used their time at the podium to try and show the board that Kean was heading downhill, not up, as Farahi has indicated. Kean Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jesus Diaz was one of them.
He read off several statements about Kean wanting to be the “University of choice,” and “developing Kean into a model public university,” pointing out these were words taken from a brochure put out by the school. He also brought up the fact
that Kean’s rating with Moody’s Investor Service remained “negative” because the university has $379 million in debt,
declining enrollment numbers, and continued borrowing without significant growth of financial resources.
Diaz said Kean has become a “construction company with a university name,” pointing out that the Union County four-year higher education institution was the only one of all the state universities to be put on probation by Middle States.
“The trends in the data are not good. Kean looks like a still salvageable sinking ship,” Diaz said, asking the board “do you owe your fiduciary duty to Sen. Lesniak or to Kean University?”
Castiglione reminded the board about the “long list of scandals” the university had been plagued with, the lack of coordination at the administration level which led to cancellation of classes at the eleventh hour, and the decline of qualified personnel.
“This is turning this entire institution upside down,” the KFT president said, adding that “this strikes to the very core of what we do.”
Tim Harrigan, of the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, felt the decision was “a mass firing that in no way could benefit Kean.”
In higher education, tenure is a professor’s permanent job “contract” that is granted after a probationary period of five to seven years.
Academic tenure is primarily intended to guarantee the right of academic freedom. It protects teachers and researchers when they go against university opinion, disagree with university authorities or spend time on issues that are not favored by the institution.
According to one source, the intent of tenure is to allow original ideas to rise. The tenure track has always been a defining feature of employment but it has become less so in recent years. For instance, most universities currently supplement the work of tenured professors with the services on non-tenured “adjunct” professors, who teach for lower wages and fewer employment benefits, such as health care.
Although a tenured professor can be fired for incompetence or gross misconduct, they cannot be let go during periods of low enrollment. However, non-tenured professors can be let go or just not given tenure. Kean is in a period of low enrollment, which has been steadily declining since the 2009 fall semester.
Diaz, a tenured employee, said in the fall of 2009 there were 15,051 undergraduates and graduate students, compared to 2013 when that number dropped to 14,842. However, in 2011, enrollment actually went up to 16,187, but dipped again the following year.
Kean also has seen a 17 percent decline in full time assistant associates and full time professors since 2007, compared to other state universities such as Rowan, which only saw a 4.43 percent dip. Most state universities saw an increase, such as Montclair State University which saw a 14.92 percent increase in staff professors, while Ramapo saw a 10.15 percent increase.
On the other hand, the use of adjunct professors, or non-tenured staff at Kean, climbed from 770 in 2005 to 953 this year.
In fact, in 2005, 25 professors began the tenure track at Kean but only eight, or 32 percent, received the nod this year.
Montclair State University, though, also saw a decline, with 38 starting the tenure track but 25 of that number achieving full tenure status. Of all state universities, Kean was the only one to have such a low tenure receiving percentage, with only Ramapo’s percentage dipping to 46 percent and Rowan, 45 percent.
However, none of the state universities brought aboard every professor that began the tenure track in 2005. Some, such as New Jersey City University, denied tenure to as few as three professors while Montclair State University saw 13 out of 38 not make the grade.
Over the years, 42 of 57 eligible Kean faculty members have been granted tenure, while those that did not lost their positions at the end of the school year.