By Cheryl Hehl, Staff Writer
It appears Gov. Chris Christie is well aware of the problems facing Kean University. In fact, the office of the Secretary of Higher Education has been quietly working with the board of trustees for several months to ensure this state university does not lose accreditation.
According to sources close to New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, the office began working with the Kean Board of Trustees when the university was put on probation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in early July.
Yesterday Hendricks commented on working with Kean University, noting that the recent decision by Middle States placing Kean on probation “is a serious matter.”
“It’s important to emphasize that Kean remains accredited while on probation,” the secretary of higher education said, but added that “”nonetheless, Kean must take every action necessary to ensure its success in meeting the higher education needs of the 16,000 students who attend the university, which is the state’s fourth largest four-year public institution.”
Hendricks went on to stress the importance of everyone working together.
“As I assist in this process, I acknowledge the Board of Trustees’ statutory responsibility to keep the university in
compliance with regulations and requirements established by the accrediting agency,” the secretary of higher education said, but pointed out she is not just working with the board.
“However, to assist the board, I am working with the Kean University community to facilitate meaningful, timely progress to meet the standards identified by the commission,” she added.
Hendricks’ also warned that “Kean University must act to protect the interests of its students, faculty and New Jersey taxpayers.”
However, while this is being achieved, another source said, it is critical that accreditation is the only issue at the forefront until it has safely been resolved.
“Issues such as whether leadership needs to change just hinder the work that has to be done,” the source noted.
“It’s time to put the bitterness aside about the leadership problems and deal with the internal problem of accreditation,” the source said, quickly adding “which doesn’t mean the leadership issue can’t be addressed after the accreditation problems have been resolved.”
The governor seemed to agree with following this step-by-step approach rather than intermingling the two issues at this point in time.
Last week on 101.5 FM’s monthly segment “Ask the Governor,” Christie briefly addressed the controversial topic of what has transpired at Kean since last fall, including the possible loss of accreditation. It was the first time he publically addressed the issue since it became public knowledge last year.
A caller asked the governor if he was doing anything about the situation at Kean, specifically mentioning the embattled university president Dawood Farahi “lying about his academic records,” and the fact the university’s accreditation was on the line.
Christie spoke briefly about the matter, assuring he had just spent time discussing the Kean situation with Hendricks.
“I just met for the better part of an hour yesterday with the secretary of higher education, Rochelle Hendricks, and I can assure you she is on top of it,” the governor told the caller, adding he had been reading about Kean and was also concerned.
“She’s working with the board of trustees and university leadership to try and get them through this accreditation crisis and also to look at what is going on with the president.” The governor also pointed out that everyone wants to bring this to “a successful resolution for students and their families.”
Christie explained there is “divided authority here,” because the board of trustees has the primary authority over the day-to-day operations. But he did add that because Kean is a state university “we have some authority, too.”
The governor addressed the ongoing problems with Farahi, mentioning that after accreditation is resolved, “then we have to look at broader governance issues to see if there needs to be a change in governance.”
Sources in Trenton indicated it would be “reckless” to commingle the possible issue of loss of accreditation with the multitude of problems students and faculty have had with the university president.
“Kean University has to get through the Sept. 12 and 13 visit from Middle States and then see what happens in November,” the source said. But even after that, the pressure will still be on.
In November, Middle States will tell Kean if they are actually in compliance with all the standards questioned or if they are still on probation. At this time the university also could be asked to “show cause” why they should not lose accreditation.
In March, Middle States will hand over their final decision, which should determine if Kean keeps the accreditation it held since 1960, or loses it.
However, a source at the state level stressed, regardless what decision is made, accreditation will still be in full affect until June 2013.