New Jersey’s public colleges and universities have been experiencing major challenges in recent years. Similarly, seemingly insurmountable challenges confront young people hoping to pursue a higher education, along with their families. The cost of a higher education is soaring way ahead of the pace of inflation. Colleges that once enjoyed sizable trusts and endowments now are encumbered by increasing debt. The portion of college costs that are covered by tuition continues to rise each year, creating a burden for working class families that widens the gap between the wealthy and those without significant resources.
When issues arise at public colleges regarding possible waste, abuse, and fraud, one must consider the plight of those prospective students who are struggling to pay for tuition and related costs. Recent developments at Kean University suggest an environment where the welfare of students is not a priority. Rather, those in power may be the ones who benefit at the expense of others.
The University faculty has accused President Dawood Farahi of fraud and misrepresentation by falsifying his academic credentials when applying for the position in 2003. The Kean Federation of Teachers has complained that the documentation that Farahi submitted to the University consisted of claims of publications that never existed. According to the Federation, Farahi engaged in a series if misrepresentations prior to being hired. If the allegations prove to be true, Farahi will be guilty of a series of State and federal offenses, including betraying the public trust and mail fraud.
In addition, the scandal becomes more complicated with the alleged involvement of a member of the State Legislature. According to the Kean University Federation of Teachers, State Senator Lesniak was instrumental in Farahi being hired as the University President. In fact, faculty members claim that Farahi was “hand picked” by Lesniak. Furthermore, faculty sources claim that Lesniak engineered the appointment of University Trustees who would be supportive of Frahi and his recommendations for the hiring of University personnel.
Complicating the issue is the accusation that Lesniak received a quid pro quo in exchange for Farahi’s appointment, including the hiring of two administrators, one his sister and the other the ex-wife of a close relative, to positions that may have been “no show” jobs. Faculty members claim that Lesniak’s sister, Margaret Devanney, was appointed to a $86,800 position, with many in her department claiming that she has never been seen on the job, while others claim that she reported to work “once or twice.”
One year after Farahi became the University President, Audrey Kelly, the ex-wife of Lesniak’s nephew, was appointed as the Executive Assistant to the University Board of Trustees at a salary of $129,000 a year.
Certainly, those who are accused must not be convicted by the public without concrete proof. Senator Lesniak has made valuable contributions to New Jersey, and he is entitled to an inquiry that hopefully will clear his name. Nevertheless, New Jersey’s image as the “Soprano State” will not be corrected until both Democrats and Republicans weed out those supposed public servants who betray the public trust. Certainly, the full investigation that the Kean faculty is demanding is warranted. Already, it has been stated that an investigation of Farahi’s credentials indicate that many of the publications that the University President claimed that he published simply never existed.
Allegations of fraud and nepotism cannot be taken lightly. The victims in such affairs are the members of the public at large - a public that includes people who cannot pay their mortgage, afford their property taxes, pay medical bills, or have the money to send their kids to college. Too often, stories like this are placed on the “back burner” in the hope that it will fade from the public eye. Unfortunately, that happens too often and the dilemma is never resolved, leaving the average hard-working citizen to continue to be victimized.