The drama at Kean University centered around President Darwood Farahi does not seem like it will be slowing down any time soon. Last week, a coalition of black ministers called for Farahi’s resignation after anonymous threats aimed at black students on campus were made on Twitter. The ministers claim that Farahi’s “climate of racial intolerance” at the school allowed hateful sentiments to flourish. The call for resignation prompted state Senator Ray Lesniak—a Farahi supporter—to speak out in opposition to the ministers’ request, calling their actions “way too far.”
Now, the ministers—headed by Rev. Ronald Slaughter—have issued a letter to Lesniak, denouncing him for his support of Farahi and for his statements.
The November 24 letter reads: “When we created a coalition of black ministers to shed light on the racial injustices on the campus of Kean University, we never expected to get into a dispute with a state legislator.
“But today when I read your remarks on nj.com concerning our call for Kean University President Dawood Farahi’s resignation, I, along with the members of our growing coalition, were appalled.
“First, let me say that we sincerely hope you were misquoted when you stated the ministers have gone ‘way too far’ by asking for the president to resign. However, if this is what you actually said, allow me to explain how this is a direct insult to civil rights in this nation.
“By accusing our coalition of going ‘way too far,’ you are invoking the same rhetorical approach that has been used to deny rights to minorities throughout history.”
What makes the dispute between the ministers and Lesniak especially interesting is the Senator’s vocal support of civil rights movements throughout his career. Earlier this month, Lesniak spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally at the New Jersey State House in Trenton.
According to Rev. Slaughter, that history of vocal backing is not enough to offset Lesniak’s support of Farahi.
“Vocal is nothing. What is he doing now?” Slaughter told PolitickerNJ. “Those black lives on that campus matter. What is he doing now except to say that we have gone too far?”
Slaughter said that Farahi has a history of racial intolerance on the campus since his appointment in 2003. The minister claims that the university president has used firings as a way to discriminate against minority populations at the institution. Slaughter also claims that the school has not been given enough resources under Farahi’s leadership despite enrollment increasing and annual budget surpluses. As an example of this, Slaughter cited the low tenured faculty to student ratio.
“What about these black students that we know we have taken as a risk?” said Slaughter of students whose academic performance before college he claimed may not have gotten them accepted to other higher learning institutions. “Yet we reduce support staff that will allow these students to get on track. Black lives don’t matter when you support that.”
Lesniak met with Senate President Steve Sweeney, Farahi and ministers including Slaughter at the State House on Monday to discuss the issue.
“He sat in a room with us for 90 minutes and he could have mentioned it then that we had gone too far,” Slaughter said. “I find it very strange to sit in front of us when we were all airing out our issues and the only thing Lesniak did in that meeting was apologize three times for not dealing with this and not setting up a meeting with me and the President. I find his quotes to be very alarming. And to admonish a group of black ministers that we had gone too far? That is a very narcissistic statement.”
The ministers’ letter to Lesniak goes on to draw parallels with the issue at Kean and the work of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders in the 1960s.
Lesniak was reached for comment but said he had not seen the letter and could not comment further.