Nearly one year later, no review of Kean’s internal discrimination report
By Rebecca Panico | Published April 17, 2017
New Jersey’s Senate president told The Tower that Kean University still needs to fulfill its promise made more than a year ago to let an outside auditor review its practices related to charges of institutional racism.
Kean was at the center of a controversy last year after a coalition of black ministers led by Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church in Newark staged a protest alleging institutional racism, which is prejudice created by behavioral norms and thinking rather than overt actions or words.
Kean produced its own report which found no discrimination at the university. At the urging of Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), it was decided that former state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, Jr. — who served as the only African American on the state Supreme Court during his tenure — would review Kean’s report.
“Kean officials made a commitment to allow Justice Wallace to examine the report and to produce an independent investigation that provides the credibility that is needed for the allegations and concerns that have been raised about the university’s actions and practices,” according to a statement from Sweeney emailed to The Tower in response to a question. “It is critical that any suspicions of discrimination or bias are investigated thoroughly and fairly.”
When asked about it, Justice Wallace told The Tower that he was never retained by the university, nor did he ever talk directly to anyone from Kean about reviewing the report.
“I never reviewed or commented on the report to Kean University because my firm was never retained,” Justice Wallace wrote in an email on April 11. “Mr. Tambuzzi of Brown & Connery attempted to negotiate an agreement, but was unsuccessful in that effort.”
Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry said in a phone interview on April 12 that the report was sent to Justice Wallace and the university “mapped out” what they “were going to pay” him.
She later added: “That would be correct” when pressed further about whether Justice Wallace was never retained by the university.
“Kean University provided Justice Wallace with a copy of the report prepared by the Governance Committee of the Board of Trustees and related materials for his review,” she wrote in a statement via email. “That is where the matters stands right now.”
The Board of Trustees, Kean’s final governing body, voted at a May 2016 meeting to authorize “the expenditure to Justice Wallace of an amount not to exceed $15,000” for his review.
The charges made by the ministers in 2015 and 2016 came after life-threatening Twitter posts were made against black students during a Kean protest in support of University of Missouri students.
Kean informed the campus of the threats, but did not cancel classes. A former Kean graduate who is black was later charged and found guilty of posting the threats, apparently to drum up support for the cause.
The coalition also called for Kean President Dr. Dawood Farahi’s resignation at the time, citing discrimination lawsuits against the university to support their claims of “structural racism.”
The threats and the coalition’s outcry drew widespread attention from Sen. Sweeney, the media and other legislators. Kean hired Rev. Michael Blackwell as a consultant to investigate the discrimination charges. But Rev. Blackwell’s credibility was questioned by the coalition and legislators.
Rev. Slaughter wants Justice Wallace to conduct his own investigation, not review Kean’s report. He said he’s never met or spoken to Justice Wallace, but recommended him because of “his stellar reputation, experience and resume.”
“In reference to Justice Wallace, Kean University, as I suspected they would, did everything to make sure he never made it on that campus,” Rev. Slaughter stated in an email on March 10. “I believe Wallace’s independent forensic report would have exposed/revealed all the things the coalition and I spoke out against.”
Kean’s full-time faculty union, the Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT), joined the ministers’ coalition in protest and also questioned the administration’s intentions.
“If the university has nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from an investigation by Justice Wallace,” said KFT President Dr. James Castiglione.
About 57 percent of the university’s student population is minority, according to 2016 data from Kean. The ministers contend that the students are set up for failure because Kean is cutting staff and faculty at the same time the minority population needs more support. Also, women and minorities are most often those who are terminated, they claim.
The coalition cited several discrimination lawsuits filed against Kean, including that of Sherrell S. Holderman, a former Kean employee who alleged she was fired because of her race, gender and age. The university settled that case, and in doing so, admitted no wrongdoing.
Since then, other lawsuits against Kean have gained media attention. A former Kean honor student filed a lawsuit alleging Kean police used “excessive force” during his arrest in 2013 and harassed him on and off campus. A trial date has not yet been set for that case, which was first reported by The Tower.
The university also settled a lawsuit with a former Kean police officer, Randy Diakunczak, who alleged the university fired him after he complained about racially and sexually-charged pranks within the Kean Police Department, NJ Advance Media reported.