The conference table is located on the sixth floor of the Green Lane Building
By Rebecca Panico
The Student Government Organization is publicly defending the Kean University administration in its purchase of a $219,024 conference table, even as social media led by students continues to rage against the lavish Green Lane acquisition.
The story of the conference table went viral internationally in both mainstream and social media almost immediately after it was published on the front page of The Record newspaper and on its website, northjersey.com.
The story details the super-table’s capabilities such as its intelligent conferencing system which has the ability to conference in participants at up to 25 locations around the world.
It was also reported that the table was custom-made for Kean in China without first going to public bid, which is normally required by state law for purchases over $32,100.
In May and September two bid waivers allowing the University to directly purchase the conference center from China were approved by the Board of Trustees, Kean’s final governing body.
The bid waivers cited two exemptions from the State College’s Contract Law, categorizing the conference table as an “extraordinary unspecifiable service and product” and as an “artifact or other item of unique intrinsic, artistic, or historic character.”
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) has asked for the New Jersey Attorney General to launch an investigation into the purchasing procedures.
“A fancy conference table should never be a higher priority for a university than educating students, but priorities are out-of-whack here,” stated Cryan in a press release. “I have asked the attorney general to review the bid process waivers used by Kean University.”
Students have also started responding. On Nov. 26, Kean finance student Kelly Tomas, started a petition on Change.org that has been circulating on Facebook and Twitter asking for Farahi to be fired. The petition has 737 supporters to date.
“I believe that we as a student body must be willing to demonstrate that we will no longer put up with President Dawood Farahi’s failure to work for a better education and obsession with costly vanity projects that benefit no one but himself,” declared Tomas on the petition’s webpage.
Reacting to national attention, students and faculty received e-mails from Vice President Philip Connelly and the SGO on Dec. 1 addressing concerns over the purchase.
Both statements emphasized that the $219,024 price-tag included the cost of technology needed to fully utilize the table as a networking resource for all students.
“The center’s table reflects the artistry and history of the region where our China campus, Wenzhou-Kean University, is located,” Connelly stated. “The total estimated cost of the mixed-media conferencing center including all of the electronic conferencing equipment is $219,024. In addition, the GLAB’s two 6th floor conference rooms are interconnected through video and audio.”
The SGO, who are elected by the student body and use tuition fees to help aid those that they represent, elaborated on President Farahi’s comments to The Record.
When asked why Kean purchased the table, President Farahi was quoted as saying it was “small-minded” to ask such questions, and “why not?”
“Much has also been made of President Farahi’s ‘why not?’ comment,” the SGO stated in their e-mail. “All of us who know and work with President Farahi are sure there was more to the sentence he offered. Why not provide Kean students with the very best spaces, places and equipment needed to learn and succeed in today’s economy?”
Linked in the SGO’s e-mail was a statement from the Kean Foundation’s secretary Robert Busch, a major donor to the University and the namesake of the Robert Bush School of Design located in the Green Lane building. Busch also stated that Farahi’s comments were “taken out of context.”
“What was missing was Dr. Farahi’s heart-felt rationale,” Busch said. “Why shouldn’t Kean University’s students, faculty, and staff enjoy top-notch facilities? Why shouldn’t its new global business students have access to technology that will link them to conferences with their mentors halfway around the world? Why shouldn’t students be able to connect with faculty and peers at Kean University’s campus in China? Why not, indeed.”
Since its installation in June, the conference room has frequently been used by the Dean of the College of Business and Public Management Dr. Michael Cooper for the Global Business School’s Advisory Board meetings.
The conference room has also hosted roundtable discussions on New Jersey’s Growing Heroin Epidemic, and was also used for the mayors of Elizabeth and St. Helier to discuss trade options. The conference center’s international telecommunication capabilities have yet to be used by any organization.