By Patricia Alex, Staff Writer, The Record.

State Senate Democratic leaders are asking Kean University to hire a politically connected law firm to examine claims of racial bias and discrimination levied at the school administration by a group of black ministers.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is pushing hard for the university in Union to hire the law firm of Brown & Connery, saying a consultant retained by the school to conduct the review is not independent enough. But the school said the Reverend Michael Blackwell is an experienced compliance officer whose review is well underway.

Kean hired Blackwell at the start of the new year, Ada Morell, chairwoman of Kean’s board of trustees, wrote in a letter to Sweeney dated Wednesday.

“Over the past eight weeks, Rev. Blackwell has reviewed extensive data on Kean University’s employment practices, enrollment trends and affirmative action data,” Morell said in the letter. “He has interviewed over 45 members of the University community, and has a full schedule of upcoming interviews for early March.”

Writing on behalf of Sweeney, Kevin Drennan, executive director of the Senate, pushed for former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, of Brown & Connery, to conduct the review. The law firm has represented Sweeney’s ally, South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross.

In his letter, Drennan said Kean trustees should not have “handpicked” the person in charge of the “independent” review, saying their involvement “would only serve to further nurture an environment of mistrust and skepticism.”

On Friday, Sweeney and Sen. Sandra Cunningham of Jersey City, chairwoman of the higher education committee, issued a joint statement saying Kean had previously agreed to hire Wallace and “We are extremely disappointed to learn that they abandoned that commitment and moved ahead with [a handpicked] advisor to conduct their own review. That fails to meet the standards of independence.”


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