As pressure continues to build for the removal of a Union County public university president for alleged resumé padding, some are wondering why there was no similar outcry when the former president of New Jersey City University, also a public institution, admitted to a falsehood on his resumé in court testimony.
In fact, one of the critics of the NJCU president recently became the subject of a civil rights complaint filed by the university because he complained about the president – even though his complaint turned out to be valid (see sidebar).
Since December, faculty members and students at Kean University in Union have called for the investigation or removal of Kean University President Dawood Farahi after several alleged inaccuracies were uncovered on his resumé. Kean students and the Kean Federation of Teachers have asked their Board of Trustees to investigate Farahi’s credentials and the case has drawn broad attention in the media.
The case is reminiscent of that of NJCU President Carlos Hernandez, who for years was accused of including a master’s degree on his resumé that he did not earn. Hernandez, who will retire in July, admitted during a 2011 trial that he did not have the degree.
With the Farahi controversy brewing, two of Hernandez’s longtime critics are now asking the state to take a closer look at his case and decide whether the public university president committed fraud against New Jersey taxpayers.
A tale of two universities
Prior to becoming president of NJCU, Hernandez was vice president of academic affairs at the school and a professor of philosophy before that. A Ph.D. graduate of the City University of New York (CUNY), Hernandez’s resumé for years stated that he also held a master’s degree in philosophy from CUNY. Although Hernandez does, in fact, hold a doctorate from CUNY, he never earned the master’s degree, according to court testimony he gave in 2011.
The master’s was, however, allegedly on Hernandez’s resumé when he was under consideration for the vice president of academic affairs position in the early 1980s.
Hernandez did not earn his Ph.D. until 1988, five years after NJCU promoted him to be the vice president of academic affairs.
His classroom experience as a professor, his Ph.D., and his tenure as the vice president of academic affairs are what likely got Hernandez the promotion to president post, but it is possible that he would never have received that promotion had he not been the V.P. of academic affairs.
Hernandez eventually deleted all mention of the CUNY masters from his resumé.
Retired NJCU sociology professor William Dusenberry, a longtime Hernandez critic, said he first alerted the state Department of Higher Education about possible problems with Hernandez’s degree in 1995, and discussed the matter with the NJCU teachers’ union – but there was never a demand from NJCU faculty and students that Hernandez be investigated.
“I went to the [American Federation of Teachers union] and said, ‘We should demand that this guy be investigated,’ ” said Dusenberry. “But they would never put [the issue] on the agenda. The faculty didn’t think of what’s best for the students. They only thought of what was best for themselves. Very few of the faculty wanted to challenge the status quo.”
When Hernandez admitted he never earned a master’s degree during a trial (ironically related to a lawsuit filed by another Hernandez critic), the NJCU Board of Trustees supported Hernandez in public statements they issued. He announced his retirement from the presidency last fall and will officially step down on July 1.
In comparison, the Kean University community has been more vocal.
For two months, faculty and students at Kean have called on the university’s Board of Trustees to fire President Farahi. An investigation by the Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT) allegedly found “numerous alleged discrepancies including publication claims, a past deanship, editorial board membership and awards claimed — none of which have been verified,” according to a February release from the KFT. Kean faculty and staff have requested that an independent external investigation be conducted into Farahi’s academic record.
After the Board of Trustees gave Farahi a vote of confidence despite the allegations against him, students staged a protest against the vote by walking out of classes, according to news accounts of the demonstration. Despite the 7 to 4 vote of confidence, trustees nevertheless issued a statement in which they acknowledged that they had “identified instances…where Dr. Farahi exhibited carelessness [on his resumé] that is not consistent with today’s rigorous academic environment. The board does not condone these mistakes.”
NJCU’s press office declined to give a new comment on the situation, but said the university had already addressed Hernandez’s credentials in previous statements.
One statement reads, in part, “Dr. Hernandez earned a Ph.D. in environmental psychology in 1988. However, until 1998, he was unaware that because he had not filed the necessary paperwork, he had not actually been awarded a master’s degree on the way to his doctorate. Upon learning that this was the case, Dr. Hernandez immediately directed appropriate University staff to remove any indication of the master’s degree from all documents. The matter was reviewed by the New Jersey City University Board of Trustees in 2007 and years earlier by the Commission on Higher Education, and no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation was found.”
The statement said that “the question of whether he had a master’s degree is moot” because Hernandez earned his Ph.D. before becoming president.
Is it fraud?
Dusenberry said he has teamed up with another former NJCU professor, Fred Andes, to encourage the administration of Gov. Christopher Christie to investigate whether fraud charges can be brought against President Hernandez.
University presidents, like all workers, get paid based on their training, experience, and qualifications for their jobs. Hernandez earns $280,000. The university would not give details of his retirement package.
Farahi currently gets $230,000 annually. These jobs often include other benefits – a car, housing, and expense accounts.
As public universities, NJCU and Kean University are both supported with taxpayer dollars. Because Farahi and Hernandez may have received compensation based on allegedly fraudulent credentials it is possible they could be investigated for theft of public funds or violation of the public trust.
New Jersey state law makes it illegal for public employees to lie about their credentials, which further raises the possibility that the men could be investigated for fraud.
“New Jersey’s conflict of interest law states that, ‘It is essential that the conduct of public officials and employees shall hold the respect and confidence of the people. Public officials must, therefore, avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust, or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated,’ ” said Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall University, last week. “The law is deliberately broad and could apply to college presidents who have fabricated their resumés.”
However, Franzese said rarely, if ever, does the state go after public officials who many have padded their resumés.
“Such cases are more the exception than the rule. Often, these kinds of situations are taken care of on the front end, during the vetting process of a candidate,” she said. “And when it isn’t, years later, the opportunity to revisit the candidate’s application and resumé may have passed.”
Acting Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks declined to comment last week on either the Hernandez or Farahi cases.
SIDEBAR Two professors say they were targeted because they complained about NJCU prez
Retired New Jersey City University (NJCU) sociology professors William Dusenberry and Fred Andes, both critics of President Carlos Hernandez, have tangled with the former university president in the past – and found themselves involved in legal action as a result, they say.
The men say that after they began raising questions about Hernandez and his credentials in the mid-1990s, they were targeted as “whistle-blowers” and their careers were derailed.
Andres filed suit against the university in 2004 after he was denied tenure. It was during testimony for Andes’ suit that Hernandez was forced to admit that he did not have a master’s degree from the City University of New York, a degree that was listed on Hernandez’s resumé for many years – and a degree that may have helped him get a promotion at NJCU.
Dusenberry says he was also targeted by the NJCU administration for raising questions both about Hernandez and about the personal life of a sociology professor who – when that professor was 35 – married a pre-teen Yanomaman girl. The Yanomami are an indigenous tribe who live along the border of Brazil and Venezuela. Various debates have been launched about this professor, a Fulbright Scholar who still teaches at NJCU and who wrote about his experiences in the book “Into the Heart: One man’s pursuit of love and knowledge among the Yanomama.” The book was reviewed in many places, including the New York Times, which discusses at length the professor’s arranged marriage to the young girl in its review.
The university actually filed a civil rights complaint against Dusenberry with the New Jersey Office of Equal Employment Opportunity in 2007, charging that he “harassed” both Hernandez and the sociology professor by allegedly posting comments about them online and discussing the comments with other NJCU staff and the media.
This past Feb. 3, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity declined to take disciplinary action against Dusenberry, who now lives in Oklahoma. But they concluded that Dusenberry’s “conduct while in the workplace was inappropriate and highly offensive. Since you are now retired from state service and no other disciplinary action can be taken against you, a copy of [this] determination letter will be placed in your personnel file and no further action will be taken.”
Dusenberry said recently that he plans to appeal the decision in Hudson County Superior Court. – EAW E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.