Students, faculty, and staff calling for the reappointment of skilled lecturers and professional staff were illegally locked out of Monday night’s Kean Board of Trustees meeting, according to Kean Federation of Teachers president James Castiglione. While hundreds of students, faculty and staff were joined by a State Senator and the Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair rallying outside against the firings, Kean managers filled all the seats and security refused to allow students into the meeting.
“These illegitimate firings eliminated almost all the African-American lecturers in the General Education department and disproportionately impacts women,” Castiglione said. “The real reason for the firings of the lecturers appears to be that they had the temerity to advocate for their students’ rights and needs in meetings with management.” When 10 lecturers spoke up against eliminating private office space to meet with students they were fired for what the university characterizes as “performance issues” although the entire department of 18 lecturers had been recently singled out for additional merit raises for retention reasons.
In addition to the lecturers, Kean has also failed to renew the contracts of a number of professional staff, who provide student support, according to Castiglione. “Kean students already have the fewest academic advisors and support staff of their peer institutions,” he said. “We have learned of more terminations of experienced staff in departments such as the Spanish Speaking Program and wonder how these departments will survive without the members who have been supporting their students for decades?”
Lecturers have stated that they believe the firings resulted after pointing out to the university president the need for private office space to meet with students when they were moved into cubicles in a large open office. Several lecturers attending the trustees meeting to call for renewals of their contracts, cited excellent performance reviews and evaluations and recommendations from the department’s leadership.
“That lecturers could be fired for telling a simple truth to management is an outrage,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said. “If President Farahi is serious about honoring Kean’s mission to advance knowledge and build skills, then he needs to help educators, not sack them for speaking up.”
According to Weingarten, educators need dedicated spaces to work individually with students. “Some students need help with a complicated theory from class, but others want to share private or personal information, or even to request special accommodations for a medical condition,” she said. “Instead, Farahi wants to sweep away the disproportionately African American and woman educators who wanted students to realize their dreams. I and the 1.7 million members of the AFT will fight this decision tooth and nail until justice is restored.”
Elected officials are questioning the non-renewal of the lecturers. Assembly Higher Education chair Mila Jasey directly called on Kean president Dawood Farahi to reverse the decisions. “I respectfully request reconsideration of what I believe to be an ill-advised decision not to renew the contracts of a significant number of lecturers,” said Jasey. The Assemblywoman pointed out that the lecturers received positive reviews and recommendations and said that continuity of full-time teaching is integral to student success.
Senator Joe Cryan represents the 20th Legislative District, which includes Kean’s Union campus. He wrote to trustee president Ada Morell, requesting they reconsider the recommendation not to renew the contracts. “I am especially committed to ensuring that Kean fulfills its commitments to its students and by doing so, maintains a level of professional excellence, continuity, and diversity in its workforce and provides the critical academic reinforcements that will help them to succeed.”
“Having the freedom to advocate for the common good for students is vitally important for faculty and staff throughout New Jersey’s colleges and universities,” said New Jersey College Council president Tim Haresign, a Stockton University professor. The College Council represents 10,000 faculty, professional staff and librarians at the nine state colleges and universities and joined the call for reversing the unfair terminations.
Haresign testified in the public portion of the trustees meeting, “You have heard from a number of student supporters and from faculty who are being not retained—they are being fired,” he said. “All the evidence we have is that those being let go are excellent faculty members, mentors and advisors. One of the lecturers just received an award for advisor of the year from a student group. None of the people have been given reasons of why they are being let go.” He called on the board to reverse the terminations.
Kean student Chloe Senatore, a sophomore majoring in English Writing and Communication, questioned Kean’s emphasis on facilities while academics are suffering. “I find it ridiculous that the university is so pompously bragging about spending money in unnecessary areas on campus construction while they’re letting go some of the most positively influential professors,” she said. “The university is firing a huge number of professors—who I found to be phenomenal—for no good reason.”