Published June 01, 2016
New Jersey officials determined Wednesday that Kean University violated the law when purchasing a conference table from China for more than $200,000.
The Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) said that the table was already on a boat from China to the U.S. before the Union-based university voted to approve its purchase in May 2014, NJ.com reported.
The OSC said an email sent five months prior to the finalization of the purchase stated that Kean President Dawood Farahi “gave the green light for the table to be made” and for the school to pay around $200,000 for it. Officials said other documents and payments reveal that the project to bring the table over to northern New Jersey began before the trustees gave final approval.
School officials told trustees that the purchases utilized exceptions to New Jersey’s public advertising and bidding requirements. However, the OSC said the transaction didn’t satisfy any exceptions, NJ.com reported.
The university claimed that the purchase covered two exceptions: “extraordinary unspecifiable services and products" and for "acquisitions of artifacts or other items of unique intrinsic, artistic or historic character." NJ.com reported the OSC said neither exception was “appropriate.”
A Kean official also told trustees the purchase was a “nod to our partners in China.” Kean University has a campus in Wenzhou, China.
The final cost for the table added up to $250,000; $30,000 for the specifications, $150,000 for the actual table and $70,000 for the modifications that were also approved before the board of trustees voted to bring the table over, the OSC said.
According to the report, the OSC claims that Kean officials bypassed its own purchasing standards by allowing its Chinese campus to deduct money paid for the table from money it owed Kean. State officials said Wenzhou Kean already paid for about 60 percent of the table before trustees approved it.
Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry said in a statement to NJ.com that the university had done its due diligence and followed the law when purchasing the table.
"The report issued by the Office of the State Comptroller has significant omissions that explain Kean's actions," McCorry said. "Kean University acted legally and with transparency throughout the process of developing the Loehning Conference Center."
Kean University Executive Vice President for Operations Philip Connelly defended the value the William F. Loehning Conference Center brings to the campus in a statement to students, faculty and alumni Wednesday and said the comptroller’s report has “significant omissions that defend Kean’s actions.”
“The Conference Center already has generated invaluable interest and revenue from alumni, investors, corporate leaders and lawmakers,” Connelly added. “The Conference Center has hosted dozens of policy roundtables on important state, local and national issues, including: solitary confinement; rampant drug abuse among New Jersey teens; domestic violence; issues facing the Latino community in New Jersey and the nation; and the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act on business and government.”
Connelly linked the value of the conference center to the role Kean University plays in the community in “advancing the dialogue on the most pressing issues of our time.”
The 22-foot circular table, located on the Union campus’ Green Lane Academic Building, seats 23 people and is made of oak with cherry veneer. The university said the price tag also includes lighting, data ports, gooseneck microphones, an illuminated world map and a motorized, two-tiered glass turntable. There also is a power manager unit with an 8-channel power output independent socket to reduce and restrain surge impact, and a separate cabinet to house the electronic equipment.
Kean is no stranger to controversial monetary decisions. The university has a $2.5 million restaurant called Ursino that serves farm-to-table cuisine. The restaurant has a spiral staircase and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Peter Turso, the executive chef at the restaurant, told The New York Times in 2012 that the venue appealed to the administration because it raised the school’s profile. Farahi told NJ.com in 2013 that the restaurant "has an amazing marketing value."
"People come to see the new Kean University. It was a good decision," he told the paper.
The Star-Ledger wrote in a 2014 editorial that the restaurant exists for no other purpose than Farahi's vanity. The editorial points out that there is no culinary program at the school and few students who can afford to eat there.
Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche and the Associated Press contributed to this report.