Board of Trustees takes new action on resolution from 2014 after lawsuit

Kean University's Board of Trustees met yesterday in Kean Hall to vote again on a resolution from 2014. Credit: Rebecca Panico

Kean University’s Board of Trustees met yesterday in Kean Hall to vote again on a resolution from 2014. Credit: Rebecca Panico

By Rebecca Panico | Published March 7, 2017

Kean University’s Board of Trustees voted again on a resolution from December 2014 regarding job appointments, which recently gained scrutiny after a court ruled the trustees’ actions null and void.

MORE: Read the full resolution

Untitled design An appellate division of Union County Superior Court ruled Feb. 8 that the university violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) when it did not send Dr. Valera Hascup, a former nursing professor, official notice about the Board of Trustees’ vote to not reappointment her.

The notice, called a Rice notice, was never sent to Hascup, who was denied reappointment in the fourth year of her tenure track. By not sending this notice, Hascup never had the opportunity to request that her non-reappointment be discussed at the meeting publicly.

The plaintiffs in the case were the Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT), KFT President Dr. James Castiglione and Hascup. The Kean Board of Trustees, Board Chair Ada Morell, and the university were named defendants.

Castiglione called the new resolution on Monday “legal jujitsu” since it addressed appointments, reappointments and promotions or changes, but did not address non-reappointments.

“We would have liked to have had the untenured faculty wrongly denied appointment to be reappointed today,” he said. “But that did not happen today, to the great loss of our university and students.”

The university disputes the appellate court’s ruling.

“Kean University maintains that it acted fully consistent with the Open Public Meetings Act,” Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry said in a statement. “The Board of Trustees has and always will comply with all legal requirements governing its actions. The University is vigorously pursuing its appeal rights and will continue its fair and equitable treatment of all employees.”

Job reappointments and non-reappointments were discussed prior to the 2104 vote in a subcommittee, court records online show. The board approved the consensus reached in the subcommittee at the December 2014 meeting, with no discussion during the public session.

“A silent unexplained vote to approve a list of preapproved candidates in public session gives the impression that the Board colluded to circumvent the OPMA’s requirements,” the appellate court wrote.

info graphicThirty-four tenure-track professors were reappointed at the December 2014 meeting, Castiglione said. Nine professors, including Hascup, were not. Two professors were effectively fired in both the second and third year of tenure-track, three in their fourth year and two in their fifth year.

The appellate court’s February ruling not only affects public universities, but all public entities, including governmental agencies and K-12 public schools, Castiglione said.

“It affects every public body in the state of New Jersey,” Castiglione told The Tower at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting. “It’s a really broad ruling from the appellate court. And they concur that the board was not doing its job.”

The appellate court ruled that Rice notices must be provided in advance of any meeting where a personnel decision may occur. Hascup has not received damages as a result of this ruling, Castiglione said, nor did she receive a Rice notice for Monday’s meeting since the board’s resolution didn’t address non-reappointments.

The appellate court also ordered the board to adopt a meeting schedule for the upcoming school year that will enable it to approve meeting minutes within a 45-day time frame. The board meets five times a year, making it difficult to approve minutes of previous meetings within that time period.

“If this requires the Board to meet ten times per year to make the minutes of its meetings ‘promptly available’ to the public, so be it,” the ruling read.

Rebecca Panico may be reached at Follow The Tower on Twitter@KeanTower. Find The Tower on Facebook.

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