At meeting: ‘Where is the acknowledgement of personal responsibility?’
By Cheryl Hehl, Staff Writer
UNION COUNTY — Although most board meetings during the past year have begun in front of a large, raucous audience that jammed Kean Hall and spilled into the hallways and courtyard beyond, the Aug. 30 meeting was attended by a sparse crowd devoid of students or parents.
Nevertheless, members of the administration, faculty and unions approaching
the microphone expressed vastly different views of what lay ahead as the university battles the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
While some showed strong support for the monitoring report being submitted to Middles States, others issued stinging, often vivid, descriptions of how leadership under Farahi is a slippery slope for the university.
Among those stepping to the podium was Interim President of the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, American Federation of Teachers, William Sullivan, who, using his past service in the United States Navy, warned the board of the consequences of not addressing what has caused the problems at Kean.
“As a former sailor, please allow me to use a nautical analogy.KeanUniversityhas run aground and is in danger of sinking. When a Navy ship runs aground, a Naval Board of Inquiry is called, the cause of the incident is determined and the offending parties punished. If it is the commanding officer, he or she is relieved of command,” Sullivan said, adding that much like a naval board, “this board must take action.”
“This institution must have competent leadership who can right the ship before it sinks. This body has the responsibility to make that happen,” he said, suggesting “the faculty and university senate votes of no confidence in the university’s commanding officer reflect an atmosphere of despair on campus.”
Sullivan pointed out that when Kean was put on probation by Middle States, university officials immediately reacted defensively.
“Rather than look inward and access what went wrong, the leadership of this institution attacked Middle States. Where is the acknowledgement of personal responsibility for this situation? Where is the leadership at this institution?” Sullivan questioned.
And when adjunct Professor and President of the Local 6024 Adjunct Federation of Teachers stepped to the microphone, she left little unsaid about the situation this university is facing and who bears responsibility in the end.
Citing the lack of governance, last minute “fill-in hiring,” poor management of class assignments, cancellation of contracts, dropped courses, substandard working conditions, low morale and “an overall lack of respect and support by many,” Henderson also used an analogy to hopefully stir the board into removing Farahi as president.
“Kean’s faculty and staff are tired. Tired of putting out fires started by a most charming and deceptively skillful pyromaniac,” said the professor who has spent decades at Kean, admitting she has survived and outlasted some of the best leadership at the university with no tenure, benefits or job security.
“Every time we put out a fire, another is started and then there is another,” she added. “Middle States will see through all the coaching and mock Middle States Commission on Higher Learning visiting team sessions we are prepping for with Kean’s paid consulting firms.”
Finally,Hendersonmade an impassioned plea to the board, asking “what are we proving?”
“Please, we cannot fail and lose accreditation because of the poor, well intentioned but misguided leadership of one person and those he has surrounded himself with. You must, like good leaders, sacrifice the one for the welfare of many and the future of Kean,” said the adjunct professor.
Other speakers, such as Jeffrey Toney, Kean Vice President of Academics, explained the work that went into preparation of the monitoring report for Middle States, mentioning that 250 campus staff members participated in this process.
Patrick Eppolito, a bi-lingual professor who worked on the monitoring report, pointed out that open communication enabled many people to work together for a goal.
“This was a massive effort to respond to Middle States,” he told the board, adding that “it’s my hope and wish that we can set aside our differences.”
“We need a commitment from everyone to meet Middle States’ standards so we can keep accreditation,” Eppolito added.
However, others, such as John Harrison, a member of the Kean Faculty Senate that recently gave a vote of no confidence to Farahi, was not so sure working together would solve the problems facing Kean. But he did say the faculty was acting “to preserve the integrity of our institution.”
Charlie Kelly, who has been a professor at Kean for 40 years and also is the vice president of the Kean Federation of Teachers, was concerned about what would happen when the fall semester began.
“I have some anxiety about when I go to class on Tuesday because I know I’ll get some questions about accreditation, especially from the graduate students,” Kelly said, adding “when you are put on probation, your house is on fire.”
Kelly also questioned whether input they were asked to provide in regard to Standard 6, integrity, was even being considered by the board.
“We don’t know if you are using it or not,” the tenured professor added, noting they received little feedback in regard to this issue. Kelly also did not believe the monitoring report sent to Middle States would “win the day.”
If Middle States finds Kean has not made the changes required, they could begin the process to remove the university’s accreditation. However, this would not occur immediately, according to a source at the commission.
Instead, based on the information in the monitoring report and visit next week, Middles States will make a determination in November whether the university remains on probation or needs to “show cause” why they should not lose accreditation.
Middles States would then render a decision in March, one way or another on the matter.
If Kean loses accreditation, though, it would not be effective until June, according to Middles States sources.
Only after that point would Kean have to arrange for students to transfer their credits to another university in order for them to obtain student loans or enable credits earned prior to the loss of accreditation transferred for advanced degrees.