UNION, NJ – About 75 vehicles and about 120 people participated in a car caravan up Morris Avenue, from Jeanette Avenue to Kean University, on Thursday afternoon organized by Kean Federation of Teachers protesting the university’s cut, suspension, or reorganization of several academic programs and the layoff or furlough of faculty and staff. The University plans to cut music, economic, art history, sustainability sciences, and theater education programs as well as student support personnel.
“A fundamental question is why don’t Kean University students deserve to have a music program, why don’t they deserve to have economics, or art history programs,” said Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT) President James Castiglione. “These programs fill a need within the state of New Jersey,” he said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the budgets of higher education institutions around the country, and Kean is no exception,” said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D. in a May press release. “These are tremendously difficult decisions, but we must ensure the University is able to support the programs that it does best and that continue to draw demand from students. We must live up to our fiduciary responsibility to the institution and to our students.”
The Board of Trustees approved the program suspensions and other cost-saving measures in May and the University notified a dozen faculty members associated with the eliminated programs of their retrenchment and another half dozen office managers were notified that their positions were eliminated.
“By getting rid of the program they’re able to get rid of tenured faculty teaching that program,” said Rachel Evans, Coordinator of the Theater Education Program, the only theater education program in the state. “We’re a small program. There are only 178 kindergarten through grade 12 theater teachers in the state of New Jersey so we’re filling a small, but important need. Without having the program at Kean there’s no place for students to go to be prepared to be drama teachers.”
Castiglione said the University will also layoff 18 experienced professional staff members who work in the offices supplying critical student support services. “We are worried the University is gutting student support services in the middle of a pandemic.”
Kean’s Director of Media Relations Margaret McCorry said the University did notify about two dozen managers and professional staff that the University intends to eliminate their positions as a result of significant financial hardships due to COVID-19.
“We’re afraid Dr. Farahi as he’s exiting the building is settling some scores and cleaning house from his point of view,” said Kean University Professor of Music Dr. Matthew Halper of the retiring University president. “It’s an improper response and it’s actually taking advantage of [the COVID-19] crisis to do something very narrow-minded and not in the best long-term interests of the institution.”
Halper said Kean University serves a working class population, “so why should theater and music and art history disappear at the snap of a finger? Why not a deliberative process that [incoming president] Dr. Repollet could evaluate.”
About Repollet’s arrival to the University, Castiglione said, “we are very hopeful of sitting down with him and establishing a productive and constructive relationship from the get-go and we’re hopeful we can get many of the issues that have vexed Kean University amicably and productively resolved under the new president.”