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Adrian Walker

Taking a pass on the future

A string of limousines is not a common sight outside the president’s office at Roxbury Community College, but there they were last fall, as a group of the state’s most prominent movers and shakers came to pay a call on the college’s president, Terrence A. Gomes.

They are members of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group that is quietly working to create more jobs in the state. They thought - mistakenly as it turned out - that they had come to make Gomes an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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The group included William Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon; Laura Sen, the president and CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club; and John Fish, the owner of Suffolk Construction Co., whose headquarters are not far from RCC.

Sometime last summer, Swanson got the idea of starting a job training program and locating it at a community college. The idea was that a group of students would be paid for training, and would intern at companies such as Raytheon and Suffolk, to be hired after completing the program. Fish, cochairman of the partnership, thought Roxbury Community College would make a perfect home for the program.

But when the group called Gomes to talk about it, their calls were never returned. This is a group that holds monthly meetings with the governor and the mayor - their calls get returned. Especially by people they would like to help. But Gomes was unresponsive.

After being ordered by the governor’s office to meet with them, Gomes showed up 45 minutes late, and then said he didn’t want the program at Roxbury Community College. The business honchos were stunned. After all, this wasn’t going to cost RCC anything: All Gomes had to do was say “yes.’’ Yet he said “no.’’

As a matter of policy, the partnership members do not speak to the media about their efforts. But one high-ranking official with direct knowledge of the meeting described dealing with Gomes this way: “It was crazy.’’

Undaunted, the group took the proposal to Bunker Hill Community College. Its president, Mary Fifield, couldn’t embrace the idea fast enough. The first 25 students in the program are wrapping up their internships, she said, and Raytheon has hired one full time.

Fifield said she was unaware that Bunker Hill had been the second choice for the program. “Our students love it,’’ she said. “Why would [Gomes] not want to participate?’’

That’s the obvious question, and I hoped to put it to Gomes. But he was unavailable on both Thursday and Friday. A college spokeswoman confirmed that the meeting took place, and added, “We hope to participate in the program at some point in the future.’’

The backdrop of this is that businesses believe community colleges are not training students for the modern workforce. Last year, the Boston Foundation reported that thousands of low- or medium-skilled jobs are going unfilled in Massachusetts because people are not being trained to do them. Many blame the colleges, semiautonomous institutions that are barely accountable to anyone and have a long record of resisting change.

Some, of course, are better than others. The enrollment at Bunker Hill has doubled in a decade, thanks to strong leadership and programs that lead to careers. Meanwhile, RCC has languished: More than 1,500 students from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan are bypassing RCC to attend college in Charlestown, according to Bunker Hill records. They’re voting with their Charlie Cards.

Terrence Gomes, if he could be reached, might be surprised by that statistic. But it wouldn’t shock the people who have witnessed his negligence firsthand.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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