Kean’s compliance consultant finishes review, official says
By: Rebecca Panico | Published March 14, 2016
Rev. Michael Blackwell’s review of Kean’s employment practices has finished, the university said today in a statement to The Tower.
“Rev. Blackwell completed his research on March 7, 2016 as per his agreement with the Governance Committee,” Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry wrote in a statement. “He always conducted himself professionally, and his research and insights have contributed to the Board’s process.”
Rev. Blackwell was hired by Kean in December for $15,000 to review institutional racism allegations that were made against the university by a coalition of black ministers led by Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church in Newark.
The announcement comes after the Board of Trustees’ March 7 meeting, where Board Governance Committee Chair Linda Lewis gave a brief summary of Rev. Blackwell’s findings. No mention of Blackwell’s agreement ending was mentioned at the meeting.
“Since early January, the [Board Governance] Committee and Rev. Blackwell have gathered and reviewed data on employment trends, enrollment trends, graduation rates, funding and financial aid issues,” Lewis said at the Trustee’s meeting. “More than 45 interviews of students, employees and alumni have taken place to date.”
The Governance Committee will now complete its review of Kean’s employment practices since the agreement of Rev. Blackwell, who was hired to “assist” the committee, has ended with the university, today’s statement continued.
“The Governance Committee of the Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Trustee Linda Lewis, will complete its review of the University’s employment practices, trends and affirmative action data and report its findings publicly at the May Board of Trustees meeting,” the statement read. “Ms. Lewis has a long record of experience in compliance review and spent a significant part of her career conducting investigations into workplace discrimination.”
Rev. Blackwell could not be reached for comment today about the completion of his review.
Earlier this month, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was critical of Kean’s decision to hire Rev. Blackwell, alleging that he was “handpicked” by the university. He recommended that former state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace be used instead.
Wallace was the only African American justice until Gov. Chris Christie (R) did not renominate him in 2010. His seat has been vacant since then. Sweeney — a likely contender for the next governor — has been pushing back on Christie’s new nomination.
Rev. Blackwell, who attended last week’s Trustees meeting, declined to speak to reporters regarding Sweeney’s recommendation since he said he was “retained” by the university. Rev. Blackwell did not make a presentation at the meeting.
The Record reported Friday that Rev. Blackwell was involved a number of crimes, including a simple assault charge from last year that was classified as domestic violence. The complaint obtained by The Record reportedly stated that he punched a woman in the eye and threw a rock at her.
He also reportedly pleaded guilty to third-degree felony count of writing a bad check, according to state reports obtained by The Record.
Questions were also raised by the newspaper regarding his educational credentials and his time served in federal prison in the 1990s.
McCorry, the school spokeswoman, told The Tower in February that, “A number of approaches to this project were considered” when choosing Rev. Blackwell as a compliance reviewer. Today’s statement said that Rev. Blackwell “discussed” his qualifications with school officials.
“The University discussed with Rev. Blackwell his qualifications as a compliance reviewer and, based on his experience with various economic development projects in New Jersey, determined that he was well prepared for this assignment.”
State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Wayne), who is an attorney and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the New Jersey Attorney General to investigate the circumstances surrounding Rev. Blackwell’s selection, The Record reported today.
The Board Governance Committee’s full report will be presented at the next Trustees meeting on May 9.