By Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman/ The Star-Ledger
UNION TOWNSHIP — Money may be tight at Kean University and enrollment may be down. It may have just emerged from academic probation and its bond rating may be lousy. But one thing you can say about the 15,000-student university and its enterprising leader: They are not afraid to be different.
Only Kean, among New Jersey’s 31 public colleges, has a sophisticated $2.5 million, farm-to-table restaurant with a grand spiral staircase of natural oak wrapped in stainless steel, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a dinner menu featuring roasted organic chicken, seared foie gras and sea bass with lobster bouillabaisse.
If the restaurant called Ursino doesn’t look like a student hangout — that’s because it isn’t.
Ursino was not constructed for any academic purpose. Kean has no culinary program and few students could afford to eat there anyway. Kean University President Dawood Farahi readily acknowledges the restaurant was built as a showplace for the Union Township campus.
“It also has an amazing marketing value for us. People come to see the new Kean University,” Farahi said. “It was a good decision.”
Ursino is one of many unusual initiatives the public university has launched in recent years. A Star-Ledger examination of thousands of pages of Kean’s financial records, contracts and other documents shows the projects all have a common theme: They cost a lot of money and many appear to have little direct impact on the school’s core mission — an affordable education for New Jersey’s low-income and middle-class college students.