Kean University’s $219,000 tables the center of attention

By Patricia Alex

It costs more than $44,000 in tuition to attend Kean University for four years, and many of the school’s students struggle to pay the bill.

But the taxpayer-supported school in the township of Union spent $219,000 so far and has authorized up to $270,000 — about the average price of a house in the nearby working-class neighborhood — for a custom-made, circular conference table that seats 23 and features data ports, microphones and an illuminated map of the world in a glass panel at its center.
The table was bought without competitive bidding, which is normally required under New Jersey law for purchases at state colleges and universities. Instead, Kean hired a company in China to manufacture the table. The school recently established a branch campus there and wants to strengthen ties with the Chinese government.
The price tag is as much as 10 times what has been spent by other schools for similar tables, records show.
Kean President Dawood Farahi, who has grand ambitions for the university, including expansion of the China campus, said the school saved money by going to China and that the table would have cost half a million dollars if made in the United States. “It is small-minded to focus on the university buying a $200,000 table,” Farahi said in a recent interview on campus.
“Why not?” he responded when asked about the purchase. “Why not? Why not?”
But critics say the purchase of the table from a Shanghai company reflects misguided priorities, possible financial improprieties and a president preoccupied with vanity projects at the school.
“Whether or not this is legal, it’s certainly not ethical and it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union. “And it’s an added insult that they didn’t go to an American vendor.”
Kean said the furniture fell under the category of professional creative services and that bids were not required. It cited exemptions from the public bidding laws for the “acquisition of artifacts or other items of unique intrinsic, artistic or historic character.”
The 22-foot table, made of oak with a cherry veneer, has been installed on the top floor of the new $40 million Green Lane Building, which the school said was designed to fulfill “a university need for a world-class corporate meeting space.” The building will also house the new architecture school, which has generated controversy because the state already has a well-respected but under-enrolled public program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Kean established its program as the first step needed to replicate it in China, where there is a demand. The table is the showpiece of the circular rooftop conference center with panoramic views of lower Manhattan. The striking new building has an undulating glass facade that overlooks a nearly shuttered Merck plant. Kean said the table, which has bands of ornamental stainless steel at its base, has a motorized, two-tiered glass turntable that is uniquely Chinese.

Not right fit, initially
In May, Kean’s governing board agreed to award a contract for up to $200,000 to Shanghai Rongma Office Furniture Ltd. for the design, construction, transport and installation of the table, according to records obtained through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
But the table didn’t quite fit right so the board agreed again to waive bidding in September to authorize an additional $70,000 for the firm to change the diameter and improve the lighting, the records show. The original purchase price and the cost of the modifications are tied to Chinese currency and the final tab is expected to come in at $219,024, said Marsha McCarthy, spokeswoman for the school.
In the interview, Farahi, the president, who was born just over the Chinese border in Afghanistan, spoke about the potential of the Wenzhou campus, which he said would benefit New Jersey students.

Full story at NJNewscommons

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Posted by on Dec 16 2014. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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