By Rebecca Panico | Published March 31, 2016
A former state Supreme Court Justice will review Kean’s report investigating claims of institutional racism after the university faced increasing pressure from lawmakers across the state.
“The Kean University Board of Trustees has already agreed to forward the Governance Committee report to Justice John E. Wallace, Jr.,” Kean University President Dawood Farahi said in a March 18 statement. “Once it is completed, I will recommend Justice Wallace be retained to review and assess the report, and prepare his impartial evaluation for the Board of Trustees.”
The university hired Rev. Michael Blackwell to investigate the university’s employment practices after claims of institutional racism were made by a coalition of ministers led by Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church in Newark last year.
The coalition also called for Farahi’s resignation after a black Kean graduate was accused of posting threats against black students on Twitter last November in an alleged hoax.
Rev. Slaughter called the president’s decision “a step in the right direction” but emphasized that “we still have a long way to go! Don’t close your eyes just yet” in an email. On Twitter, he stressed that he still wanted Wallace to do his own report.
The president’s statement noted that Kean’s student body — which is about 60 percent minority – and faculty “deserve the truth.”
“Kean has been named by DiversityInc. as one of the top five most diverse universities in the nation, and placed on President Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for five years running,” Farahi said in statement. “We are confident the facts will speak for themselves.”
Last month, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney urged the university’s Board of Trustees to use Wallace rather than its own auditor in a letter written by the senate majority leader.
“Utilizing members of your Board of Trustees and an individual handpicked by the University,” the letter read, “would only serve to further nurture an environment of mistrust and skepticism, especially if the investigation unequivocally validates the actions and atmosphere at Kean University.”
In response, Trustees Chair Ada Morell wrote that the Board Governance Committee, which was working with Rev. Blackwell on the report, had already obtained its own auditor and initially declined the senate president’s suggestion.
The coalition criticized the university’s decision to hire Rev. Blackwell too, since he admitted a bias in an interview with The Tower, saying that the coalition accused people at Kean of things he doesn’t “think they’re guilty of.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Sweeney organized a closed-door meeting between Rev. Slaughter, Farahi, and other lawmakers last year. The university would not confirm or deny that all parties agreed to use an auditor recommended by the legislature.
Now, Farahi stated the university would provide its full cooperation to Wallace in his statement.
“The University pledges its full cooperation to Justice Wallace and will provide any necessary information he may need to finalize his evaluation,” Farahi said in a statement. “Senate President Stephen Sweeney has been consulted on this course of action.”
Rev. Blackwell completed his review on March 7, the same day that the Board Governance Committee gave a summary of his report at the Trustees’ meeting.
That announcement of his completed review came less than a week after The Record reported that Rev. Blackwell was convicted of crimes ranging from domestic violence against a woman and writing a bad check.
Questions were also raised by The Record regarding his educational credentials and his time served in federal prison in the 1990s, relating to a bank robbery.
The Board Governance Committee’s full report will be made at the next Trustees meeting on May 9.