Kean alumnus donates $250K to ‘underwrite’ $219K conference table

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By: Rebecca Panico | Published Dec. 31, 2015

A year after news of Kean University’s $219,024 conference table went viral, the apparatus has generated over $22,000 for the school through rentals, the university said in a statement.

Now, retired finance executive and 1970 Kean alumnus William Loehning has donated $250,000 to “underwrite” the conference table. The Green Lane Building’s sixth-floor conference center will be named in his honor, the release noted.

“President [Dawood] Farahi envisioned a unique space that is truly world class in terms of function, style and technology,” Loehning said in a statement. “I hope my gift and the spectacular conference center itself attract more philanthropic investments in the University.”

Loehning, a retired vice president of Fidelity Investments, was awarded an honorary doctorate degree during Kean’s May 2015 graduation ceremony. He’s a member of the Kean Foundation’s Board of Directors and received Kean’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the William Livingston Award for Excellence in Business and Philanthropy at Kean’s 17th annual gala in 2014.

The table has been used for various public events since 2014, including a round table discussion about New Jersey’s heroin epidemic, which invited several county prosecutors. It was also used by the mayors of Elizabeth and St. Helier to discuss trade options.

Last year, some students and former Assemblyman Joseph Cryan denounced the purchase, which circumvented a public bidding process that is usually needed for purchases over $32,100.

“A fancy conference table should never be a higher priority for a university than educating students, but priorities are out-of-whack here,” Cryan said in a statement last year. “I have asked the attorney general to review the bid process waivers used by Kean University.”

The State Comptroller’s Office launched an investigation into the spending of the table with an expected release date of early next year, according to The Record.

Read More: State examines use of student fees at Kean, other colleges

Students were split, albeit vocal, about the purchase last December.

Kelly Tomas, a Kean finance student, created an online petition which denounced the table and called for Farahi’s termination. To date, 902 people have signed.

Kean’s elected student-body representatives, Student Organization, sent out a blast email calling the “uproar” about the purchase “not true,” and emphasized that the cost was not just for the table, but for the technology in the conference center too.

The conference center is able to contact people at up to 25 locations around the world, and has a separate room that can connect to the action around the table with audio and video. The table also has the ability to slowly spin to send items to people sitting around its 22-foot diameter.

The conference center will be dedicated to Loehning’s name at a ceremony early next semester, the university said in a statement.

Rebecca Panico may be reached at panicore@kean.edu. Follow The Tower on Twitter@KeanTower. Find The Tower on Facebook.

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