By: Rebecca Panico | Published Jan. 23, 2016
Kean University announced yesterday that an independent consultant has been chosen to evaluate Kean’s employment practices after protesters raised concerns about discrimination at the university during two recent rallies.
“Rev. Michael Blackwell, a seasoned professional in compliance reviews, has been engaged by the Board Governance Committee as an independent consultant to review and evaluate data related to University employment practices, trends and affirmative action procedures,” the university said in a statement.
Additional information regarding which church Rev. Blackwell was from was not immediately available.
Last December, a coalition of ministers and Kean’s full-time faculty union protested with the NAACP and state Sen. Ron Rice (D) to call for the university president’s resignation. They also demanded an audit of Kean which would investigate how money is spent on students and its employment practices.
But, the protesters emphasized, they wanted the audit to be led independently by the legislature.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY PROTEST
The latest protest came on Monday in front of state Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s (D) office, and was led by Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church in Newark, who has been leading the coalition of black ministers.
Over 50 protesters — consisting of members from Rev. Slaughter’s church, the Kean Federation of Teachers (Kean’s full-time faculty union) and the People’s Organization for Progress — questioned the relationship between the senator and Kean and denounced his support for university President Dr. Dawood Farahi.
Days before the first protest in December, Lesniak and a delegation of other Union County legislators penned a letter supporting the university president.
“When he [Lesniak] wrote the letter supporting the president, he made it clear that it’s the politicians and not the educators that run the university,” KFT President Dr. James Castigilione told The Tower at Monday’s protest. “And that’s why the university is not being run in the best interest of the students.”
Outside the senator’s office, which was closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rev. Slaughter compared Lesniak to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, an outspoken segregationist in the 1960s and 1970s.
“And we are saying to this senator who is acting like Governor Wallace of Alabama that it’s time out for your power and influence at Kean University,” said Rev. Slaughter in front of the senator’s office at 985 Stuyvesant Ave. “No other state senator is more involved in a state funded institution than State Senator Raymond Lesniak.”
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Lesniak downplayed those allegations, and pointed out that he was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award from United Youth of New Jersey for his work in promoting same-sex marriage, his focus on environmental issues and repealing the death penalty.
“I’m going to take a lesson from Martin Luther King, and not return hate with hate and just say that the day before I received a Keeping the Dream Alive award from United [Youth of New Jersey],” Lesniak said.
Lesniak, who was reportedly present at a November meeting in Trenton with Farahi and Rev. Slaughter to discuss the coalition’s concerns, confirmed that an internal probe would take place.
“The Kean University Board of Trustees, under the operations of [Governance Committee Chair] Linda Lewis, has hired an independent evaluator to work with them and review all the charges that have been made,” Lesniak said.
ALLEGATIONS OF NEPOTISM
In an email, the coalition compiled a list of what they said were 11 of Lesniak’s politically influenced hires at Kean, including Kean Board of Trustees Secretary Audrey Kelly, the ex-wife of Lesniak’s nephew, and Margaret Devaney, Lesniak’s sister who they say was hired as a professional services specialist for the Computer Services Department in 2001.
“My sister died! My sister died!” Lesniak exclaimed Tuesday during a phone interview when asked about his sister, adding that Kean’s full time faculty union president, Castiglione, constantly accused her of having a “no-show job” in the last years of her life.
“There’s a special place in hell for Castiglione. He tormented her when she was dying,” he said, later adding that, “he [Castiglione] should be the one that should be resigning.”
Castiglione said he did not compile the list that the coalition sent to reporters, but that the names on the list have been “circulating around for a long time.”
“Senator Lesniak’s false accusations and personal attacks are an attempt to deflect scrutiny from and avoid accountability for Kean University’s mismanagement under the Farahi administration,” Castiglione said in a statement.
Rev. Slaughter called Lesniak’s comments about Castiglione “reprehensible” when responding to a leaked email from the senator that was sent to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Ron Rice, Mila Jasey, and Sandra Cunningham. Lesniak’s email mirrored his comments to The Tower.
“What is more hateful than condemning someone to hell like Sen. Lesniak did in an email… to colleagues concerning Dr. Castiglione?” Rev. Slaughter said in an emailed statement. “Dr. Castiglione is not the problem at Kean University. Sen. Lesniak is the problem. His tokens of love to the black community are not enough when he has stood by and allowed this problem to fester at Kean for as long as he has.”
Meanwhile, the university continued to denounce Rev. Slaughter and his allegations of nepotism at Kean.
“As we have said before, Rev. Slaughter and his group are misinformed and misguided,” the university said in a statement.