As president, Farahi’s performance has won praise from the board but criticism from faculty members at the New Jersey public institution.
Farahi was known as a builder. He pushed for creation of the New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics at Kean; for the integration of the Liberty Hall Museum campus into Kean; and for an arrangement with Ocean County College that allowed Ocean City students to earn a Kean degree on their own campus. He led the creation of a campus in China, Wenzhou-Kean University.
But as Farahi built these and other programs, he constantly clashed with faculty members.
A major source of unrest was the discovery in 2012 of inaccuracies on his résumé. He never talked to Inside Higher Ed about the errors but told The Star-Ledger that the mistakes had been made by Kean employees but not by him.
The board investigated Farahi and said he should stay in the job. “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 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 board said in a statement in 2012. “Indeed, under Dr. Farahi’s tenure, the university has made significant and measurable progress, and our students now reap the benefits of an education system focused primarily on their success.”
In 2014, faculty members criticized Farahi for paying $219,000 for a custom-built conference room table. The university did not seek bids on the project and used a Chinese company as part of an effort to build ties to China. A spokeswoman for Kean, via email to Inside Higher Ed, said the table should be viewed as a “conferencing center” because it includes electronic equipment, storage for the equipment and lighting and is more than the conference table itself.
In 2017, a state appeals court ruled that Kean violated that state’s open-meetings law by declining to renew a professor’s contract without first warning her of the decision.
And the public affairs program lost accreditation this year, leading to more finger-pointing. Numerous other disputes took place during Farahi’s tenure.
Amid the many fights, Farahi has pointed to strong board support. He said in announcing his retirement, “It has been more than my honor and my privilege to lead this amazing university; it has been a significant part of my life. We will continue this academic year on our path of progress and transformation, building a financially strong and academically vibrant institution like no other in New Jersey. The future for Kean students is bright.”
But Kean Federation of Teachers president James Castiglione, joined by AFT New Jersey president Donna M. Chiera and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, issued a statement calling for an open search for Farahi’s successor.
Weingarten said, “For years, we have organized to expose Dawood Farahi’s incompetence and cronyism that has hurt Kean’s vital mission and reputation, as well as its students and faculty. Finally, with Farahi’s exit, the Kean community can begin to heal and realize their school’s potential as the premier New Jersey institution it is destined to be. The path to rehabilitation is long, but it begins with a legitimate search process for a new leader so Kean can be the economic and educational engine that Union County needs.”