Leadership & Governance

In Narrow Vote, Kean U. Trustees Support Embattled President

Yana Paskova for The Chronicle

Dawood Y. Farahi hung on to his job as president, but the narrow vote by the university's board suggested his support among trustees was deteriorating.
February 15, 2012

Dawood Y. Farahi managed to keep his job as president of Kean University on Wednesday night, but his deteriorating support among the New Jersey institution's trustees came into sharp relief. Following an emergency meeting to discuss allegations that Mr. Farahi falsified credentials on his résumé, a narrowly divided Board of Trustees voted to endorse Mr. Farahi's leadership, in spite of "carelessness" in the presentation of his academic accomplishments.

In a 7-to-4 vote, with one abstention, the board approved a statement in support of Mr. Farahi. One trustee abstained.

"The board notes that the investigation identified instances, most decades old, where Dr. Farahi exhibited carelessness that is not consistent with today's rigorous academic environment at Kean," the statement reads. "The board does not condone these mistakes made by Dr. Farahi; in fact, we deplore them. But the board recognizes that none of the investigator's findings is material to Dr. Farahi's successful employment as president of Kean."

The statement was greeted by jeers from a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 students and faculty, some of whom shouted "Shame on you" and "The board must go," The New York Times reported.

Wednesday's decision stemmed from a trustee-sponsored investigation of faculty claims that Mr. Farahi's résumés contain inaccurate and misleading information about his qualifications.

The Kean Federation of Teachers, which represents full-time faculty, staff, and librarians, called on the board in November to conduct a probe after the federation's own review of Mr. Farahi's curricula vitae spanning nearly 30 years. The union found no evidence to support the existence of "over 50 technical articles in major publications" mentioned on Mr. Farahi's résumés, and confirmed that he did not, as he had claimed, previously hold the title of acting academic dean at Avila College, in Missouri.

James A. Castiglione, the federation's president, said the board's decision was disappointing, adding that the union would renew its call on New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, to press for Mr. Farahi's removal.

"He's clearly lost significant support on the board, and this might be viewed as the beginning of the end for him," said Mr. Castiglione, an associate professor of physics. "Obviously we believe the board should have removed him, based on normal standards of academic integrity, but our concern is that it doesn't address the underlying problem that there is a consistent pattern to deceive."

The board's investigation was conducted by McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, a law firm with offices in seven states, including New Jersey. The Chronicle requested a report of the firm's investigation, but a Kean spokesman said the release is still "under review" by the trustees' legal counsel.

In a statement Wednesday night, Mr. Farahi said he was "grateful" for the board's support.

"I take full responsibility for the errors I have made, and I apologize for the negative attention that I have brought to the university," he said.

Mr. Farahi has been criticized, however, for taking less than full responsibility up until now. In an interview last month with The Star-Ledger, he acknowledged errors in his résumé, but said unidentified staff members were responsible for the mistakes.

Conflicts With Faculty

The résumé controversy is just the latest in a series of conflicts that have pitted Mr. Farahi against the union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

In 2008, Mr. Farahi instituted a policy requiring faculty to be in their offices on the campus four days a week. The policy irked professors, who often do the very research work Mr. Farahi has promoted in libraries and laboratories, rather than their offices. Another policy, adopted a year ago, requires faculty to fill out time cards to show that they are working at least 35 hours a week.

Those policies have had the intended effect of ensuring that faculty spend more time on the campus, according to university data. Nearly 90 percent of faculty appeared on the campus for four or more days in 2011, up from 28 percent in 2003.

While encouraging faculty to be more of a presence on campus, Mr. Farahi has stripped professors of many of their powers, his critics say. In a restructuring of academic units two years ago, Mr. Farahi largely did away with faculty-elected department chairs and replaced them with executive directors he appointed.

Mr. Farahi also did away with five-year faculty reviews of programs, citing a financial drain inherent in the process. That decision, his faculty critics say, has placed the university's accreditation in jeopardy. In June, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued a "warning" to the university, saying it had failed to meet standards tied to the assessment of student learning and university effectiveness.

"Farahi doesn't want faculty to have any say over what goes on, and if you have program review, then you have recommendations that come out of a department, and that's then inconvenient" for the president, Mr. Castiglione said.

Throughout their disputes, Mr. Farahi and his faculty critics frequently ascribed the worst of motives to one another. Under fire over the résumé allegations, Mr. Farahi said union members had a "vendetta" against him. Similarly, Mr. Castiglione said Mr. Farahi's initiatives involving faculty were "punitive in nature."

Unlikely Candidate

Mr. Farahi came to Kean in 1983 as an assistant professor of public administration, taking on various administrative roles, including chief operating officer, before ascending to the presidency in 2003. Mr. Farahi's emergence as the board's favored candidate during a national search, however, caught many off guard.

A person close to the presidential search, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Farahi "parachuted in" as the lead candidate largely at the insistence of Robert Cockren, then-chairman of the Kean board.

"He wouldn't have gotten a presidency anywhere else," the source said. "He did not have the credentials. It stunk at the time, and it still stinks."

Mr. Cockren's support appears to have waned. He was among the four trustees to oppose the statement supporting Mr. Farahi on Wednesday.

Mr. Cockren did not immediately respond to an interview request made through Kean's communications office Wednesday night.

Ironically, one of Mr. Farahi's early faculty supporters was the very person who took the first close look into his résumé discrepancies. Bert A. Wailoo, who launched the faculty probe of Mr. Farahi's background, actually wrote a letter in support of Mr. Farahi's presidential candidacy 10 years ago.

"I thought he was the kind of person who would pull everything together," Mr. Wailoo said. "But unfortunately that's not what he did. He turned into a monster."

Correction (2/16, 2:41 p.m.): This article originally misstated the tally of the board's vote. It was 7 to 4, with one abstention, not 6 to 4. The article also misstated the year Mr. Farahi started at Kean. It was 1983, not 1976. The article has been updated to reflect these corrections.