Skip to comments.Kean University's $219,000 table the center of attention
Posted on 11/28/2014 7:16:00 PM PST by Coleus
Breaking News: Legislator calls for investigation into Kean University's $219K conference table
It costs more than $44,000 in tuition to attend Kean University for four years, and many of the schools 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, its certainly not ethical and its a waste of taxpayer money, said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union. And its an added insult that they didnt 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, Keans 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 states Open Public Records Act. But the table didnt 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. The new campus, which has 880 Chinese students, is being financed by the Chinese government at no cost to New Jersey students or taxpayers, Farahi said. It will operate an exchange program that will let lower-income students from New Jersey travel to China at little cost, he said.
A lofty vision
While the table is part of Farahis vision to raise Kean Universitys profile, its price far exceeds that paid for most custom-made multimedia conference tables, said Paul Downs, owner of a custom conference-table company that bears his name in Pennsylvania. Weve made very complex tables for a lot less, Downs said. Weve worked for other universities in New Jersey and didnt get anywhere near that, not 10 percent of that.
Downs company is a leader in the business, with high-profile corporate, government and education clients, including Harvard University. It has made tables for NASA and the World Bank. Recently it designed and built for General Electric a $61,000 table that was similar in size and amenities to the one at Kean, Downs said. But most tables go for considerably less than that, he said. McCarthy said that while the school didnt solicit bids, it did get quotes from two American companies that were higher than the Chinese price, including one from a local company, Pollaro Custom Furniture Inc., that came in at $1 million but was later revised to $386,000.
Pollaro is a high-end, museum-quality furniture maker with such clients as Michael Bloomberg; it specializes in art deco reproductions and custom yacht furniture. The company recently partnered with Brad Pitt on a pricey furniture line. Pollaro did not return a call seeking comment on the Kean quote. In general, a $1 million quote means, Go away, we dont want to work with you, Downs said. Pollaro is one of the most expensive furniture makers in the country, and not a conference table specialist. This sounds like somebody gaming the requirement to get multiple bids something we run into all the time. You need to get three prices, so you make sure that two of them are absurd.
Cryan also questioned the process. Thats like going to get a Ferrari quote and then saying your Escalade was cheap, he said. But McCarthy said that Pollaro, based in Union, was included in the quotes since we actively seek opportunities to work with companies in our host community. In an emailed statement, she defended the bid waiver and said the table celebrates a new direction for the university as an institution that is an epicenter for poignant discussions that go beyond the borders of New Jersey and have the potential for global impact.
Critics say the new high-end corporate space adds little of value for average students. But the university says it will add to its cachet and generate rental income of up to $850 per day. Already there have been several meetings there, the school said, including a legislative hearing last week to discuss the heroin epidemic. McCarthy said the global business school, also located in the building, will host top-notch CEOs from around the area for round-table discussions, thereby benefiting students who get internships from their firms. Its important for us to have them meet in a high-profile space, he said.
See how each seat has a microphone? That is the only way people can hear each other across the table.
kean university named after the (tom) kean family who donated the land. What I don’t understand is that the college is pronounced: keen and the politician is pronounced: cane.
It’s Christie’s NEW JERSEY. Whaddidyouthingwasgoingtohappen?
That is the only way people can hear each other across the table. >>
yea it’s so big, I’m surprised they weren’t furnished with a pair of binoculars or a digital surveillance system so they can see each other clearly..
They can have a chat room open too, so they can actually communicate across the world there. That table has its own postal code.
Dollars to doughnuts the bureaucrat who made this purchase is one of Eric Holder’s people. They are very comfortable squandering other people’s money.
And guess who controls all the microphones....
Brings to mind singing around the grand piano in the ballroom of the Titanic as the ship goes down.
The communications goodies for that table could easily cost $100,000.
I’ve seen the contract for a home theater setup around here run over $50K.
I like the story of Fidelity Investments. They bought a building that formerly housed a bank. Somebody had the bright idea of re-purposing the vault door into a conference table.
If Joe Cryan is against it, it must be the best idea to come along in the state since women's beach volleyball. (I wouldn't be surprised if one of Cryan's buddies lost out on a contract for a table at twice the price.)
And all the spyware servers hidden inside.
This puts Shield's Triskelion HQ to shame. They've upped the ante for the next world-class academy.
Now who will have the nerve to fly a drone nearby for a closer look?
This is a school of architecture?
Measure twice and pay once.
How do they clean the center of the table?
With spittle on the glass from all the shouting.
I bet the wood shop at the local penitentiary could have made it for a whole lot less and provide valuable skills for the inmates
It can also serve as a lazy susan.
I attended this college in the mid 1970s. To go there full time for four years cost less than $3000, or approximately $15,000 in today’s dollars.
The extra $25,000 has to be going to buildings and administrators.
Federal education dollars have made this waste and bloat possible.
And a generation of young Americans will carry the bill to their old age.
When I went to school many of the classrooms were non-permanent structures trailered to the site and they stayed in use for over 20 years. Now even grade schools are getting mall-like atriums. A sign about a recent addition to our rural grade school touted a $7 million dollar budget. Why on earth would they spend that much money on a building when the building has nothing to do with education? The best engineer I ever hired had English as a second language. He wrote beautifully. He spent much of his learning years in a dirt floored hut in Nicaragua with three grades in the same room.
A good analogy, considering the state of affairs here in NJ; this state can’t meet its pension obligations, and is going to waste this money at a state school.
One of the problems is that they don’t care about tuition impact on Americans; for decades they’ve been trafficking Asian students because they can charge a higher tuition.
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