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Photos: NJAAUP Conference

Kean University students question need for $219,000 conference table

By Katie Lannan, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

UNION — A high-tech, $219,000 conference table purchased by Kean University raised eyebrows on the school’s campus, where some students questioned whether the expense was warranted.

The 22-foot oak table was specially manufactured by a company in China, where Kean recently opened a campus, and serves as the centerpiece of a new conference center.

While school officials have reportedly dismissed criticism of the purchase, students on Monday said they were surprised the public university would pay so much.

“That’s ridiculous,” freshman Melrose Johnson said. “It’s a table. You’re just sitting around it.”

“I mean, does it talk to you or something?” added Johnson’s friend, sophomore Sydney Espada.

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Kean University’s $219K multimedia conference table sparks criticism

By Erin O’Neill, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Kean University has so far paid $219,000 for this 22-foot conference table. (Kean University )

Kean University has so far paid $219,000 for this 22-foot conference table. (Kean University )

The head of the state Assembly’s higher education committee today rebuked Kean University for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a custom-made conference table with electronic equipment from a company in China, calling the purchase exorbitant and emblematic of misplaced priorities.

At the center of the criticism from Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland) is a 22-foot oak multimedia conference table adorned with mosaic artwork and stainless steel decorations that has space for 23 people and the ability to conference in other people from more than two dozen places around the world. The table sits in a conference center on the top floor of a newly-opened academic building on the school’s campus in Union Township.

The price tag for the table and the accompanying electronic equipment is $219,000, according to the university, which contracted with the Chinese company Shanghai Rongma Office Furniture for the table without putting the project out for competitive bidding.

While Kean University officials have defended the purchase, Riley and other Democratic legislators say it shows an administration veering from its primary mission of providing an affordable education to New Jersey residents.

“This is a quintessential example of the misguided priorities that are failing our students and putting college further out of reach for them,” Riley said in a statement. “The administration’s continued justification for spending well over $200,000 on a table shows it is both out-of-touch with the community it’s intended to serve and more focused on style than substance.”

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Kean University spends $219K on conference table, report says

By Jeff Goldman, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

UNION — The president of Kean University dismissed critics of his school’s decision to spend $219,000 on a high-tech conference table, according to a report on NorthJersey.com.

The school did not put the project out to bid and picked a company in Shanghai to strengthen ties with the Chinese government. Kean recently opened a branch campus in China.

Kean didn’t need get other price quotes because the “acquisition of artifacts or other items of unique intrinsic, artistic or historic character” don’t require bidding.

The table is oak with a cherry veneer and seats 23. Among its features are an illuminated map of the world in a glass panel, microphones and data ports, the report said. It also has a motorized, two-tiered glass turntable.

Conference tables for other universities in the state have been built at about a tenth the cost.

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Kean University’s $219,000 table the center of attention

By Patricia Alex, Staff Writer, The Record

It costs more than $44,000 in tuition to attend Kean University for four years, and many of the school’s students struggle to pay the bill.

But the taxpayer-supported school in the township of Union spent $219,000 so far and has authorized up to $270,000 — about the average price of a house in the nearby working-class neighborhood — for a custom-made, circular conference table that seats 23 and features data ports, microphones and an illuminated map of the world in a glass panel at its center.

The table was bought without competitive bidding, which is normally required under New Jersey law for purchases at state colleges and universities. Instead, Kean hired a company in China to manufacture the table. The school recently established a branch campus there and wants to strengthen ties with the Chinese government.

The price tag is as much as 10 times what has been spent by other schools for similar tables, records show.

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Legislator calls for investigation into Kean University’s $219K conference table

By Patricia Alex, Staff Writer, The Record

Attendees recently sat around Kean University’s custom-made oak conference table.
A state legislator on Monday called for a probe into Kean University’s failure to get competitive bids for the purchase of a $219,000 conference table made in China.

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union said he is drafting a letter to ask the Attorney General’s office to review Kean’s process in waiving the bidding for the table, which cost as much as ten times more than similar furniture purchased by other schools.

The Record reported today that Kean’s leaders had agreed to spend up to $270,000 for the 22-foot circular table that was installed in the rooftop conference space of the new Green Lane building at the taxpayer-supported school in Union Township.

“The fact that Kean University spent $219,000 on a conference table shows how broken New Jersey’s higher education system has become,” Cryan said in a press release issued this morning. “Priorities are out-of-whack here. The university can’t even come up with a sensible explanation for its abusive spending.

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Time to rein in Kean University president Farahi: Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board

The president of Kean University recently purchased a $219,000 Chinese conference table to impress his pals, and just to prove he is determined to escort his career into a PR shredder, Dawood Farahi justified this expense with a derisive, “Why not?”

Actually, his response consisted of three “why-nots,” according to The Record’s account.

We can think of a three why-nots: The Union school had the highest tuition increase of any New Jersey public college this year; the $9,179 average debt that full-time freshmen incur is the second-highest in the state; and the Kean debt has exploded from $124 million to $353 million during his 11-year tenure, which was enough for Moody’s to send its bond rating plummeting.

So those are the easy rejoinders to President Thrifty’s rhetorical question.

But clearly it’s time for someone to get Farahi under control, and this 22-foot piece of circular timber stands as a monument to his fidelity to other people’s money. He claims that the furniture was exempt from competitive bidding laws, because it fell into the category of “professional creative services.”

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Analysis: NJ Public Employees Pay High Percentage of Healthcare Costs

By Mark J. Magyar

Under 2011 law, employee healthcare contribution are based on ‘ability to pay’ with sliding scale ranging from 3 percent to 35 percent of premium

Three-and-a-half years ago, the state Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission appointed by Gov. Chris Christie would have had an easy time arguing that public employees should pay more toward their healthcare, as Christie has asserted.

At that time, the average state worker was paying just 3.6 percent of health premium costs, and some teachers, police, and local government employees were paying nothing at all, toward some of the most expensive healthcare policies in the country.

Today, however, while the cost of New Jersey public employee health insurance coverage remains the third-highest in the nation, most New Jersey public employees are paying more than the national average for state government workers toward their health insurance costs, an NJ Spotlight analysis shows.

In fact, the average New Jersey government employee is paying more for individual health insurance coverage than government workers in any other state and the 10th-highest average premium for family coverage in the country.

Further, state and local government workers are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector employees in New Jersey have been paying, and not much less than the percentage paid by the state’s private-sector workers for family coverage.

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College boards need more professionalism, oversight

By Susanna Tardi

On Nov. 6, 2014, the National Commission on College and University Board Governance issued a report that was highly critical of higher education governing boards, finding they aren’t serious enough about oversight, “fail to add value to decision making,” are generally inattentive and out of touch, and have outdated policies and practices. The public’s erosion of faith in the value of higher education is testimony to the fact that boards have dropped the ball in dealing with the challenges facing higher education.

The problem in New Jersey is compounded by weak state oversight and a well-publicized lack of coordination among our public colleges and universities. Improvements are urgently needed, and the commission’s report makes well-reasoned recommendations to make decision-making and oversight more substantive and effective.

New Jersey policymakers, Gov. Christie, and Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks should carefully consider the recommendations and develop legislation to engage college and university boards in reforming higher education. From the experience of faculty and professional staff, several recommendations deserve special note.

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Teachers Add Critical Voice to State’s Newly Named Testing Commission

By John Mooney

While skeptics worry Christie appointees will rubber-stamp state policy, two named to panel express optimism that dissident voices will be heard

When Gov. Chris Christie finally appointed his long-promised commission to study New Jersey’s school-testing system, the appointees included two teachers who are hardly big fans of where the state is heading.

While they’re not hard-core dissidents, Freehold Township teacher Tracie Yostpille and Camden County Vocational District’s Matt Stagliano certainly come from the camp that believes New Jersey may be moving too far, too fast.

Stagliano, an English teacher, questions how the testing fits students who don’t fit the typical mold. Yostpille, a social studies teacher, worries that testing-related narrowing of the curriculum will squeeze out subjects like hers.

“We’re not language arts or math,” Yostpille said in an interview yesterday. “We are not a tested subject, and are we a subject that matters anymore?”

The question now is how much their concerns – and the voices of others who have been critical of the state’s testing system — will influence the nine-member Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey, which Christie took more than three months to appoint and has little time to get started on its work.

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