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Public seeks answer from RCC on US crime audit

Members of the board of trustees at Roxbury Community College said at their public meeting Tuesday that school funding could be in jeopardy if embattled college president Terrence A. Gomes remains in the post he has held since 2003.

However, the trustees took no action on Gomes’s employment status and adjourned their meeting at about 10 p.m., after going into a closed executive session to discuss possible litigation against the school. They did not provide details of the potential legal action.

Earlier in the evening, supporters of the college and of Gomes implored trustees to respond publicly to reports that federal officials are auditing the school for suspected lapses in the reporting of crimes committed on campus.

“Your silence, your silence, your silence is damning,’’ Mel King, a longtime city activist and former legislator and mayoral candidate, told the board during its public meeting at the college.

Board chairwoman Anita L. Crawfordtold members of the public who attended the meeting at the college, following the closed session, that she has learned that state funding for a planned life sciences building on campus could be in question if Gomes stays on the job.

She echoed comments from other board members who said that while they respect Gomes, a change is necessary to improve relationships with state officials and the private and philanthropic sectors.

Their words angered some of the roughly 50 attendees, who largely supported Gomes.

“If you cave in to the media, you will do irreparable damage to this institution,’’ said Carol Conradson, a veteran adjunct faculty member at RCC.

But board members rejected that characterization.

“Please do not look at this board as if we are kowtowing to anybody,’’ said trustee Steven Tompkins, adding that “we have got to evolve.’’

Trustees refused to comment afterward. Gomes left with his lawyer and declined to comment during an earlier break. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, trustees will take.

Crawford said she thinks the news coverage will continue and that the board wants to prepare a careful response to the reports.

The negative attention in the news media affected commencement plans, she said.

“I pulled every string possible to make sure no media showed up at commencement,’’ she said, adding that the attendant “circus’’ was not fair to students.

The Globe reported last week that officials with the US Department of Education are seeking to find out why the college had failed to report serious allegations of crimes on campus, including sexual assault.

In a Feb. 27 letter to Gomes, the Department of Education asked for access to a variety of records to evaluate the college’s compliance with federal reporting requirements. The memo was obtained by the Globe. Failure to provide access, the letter said, could result in fines or a loss of federal funding. Officials are seeking reports dating to 2006.

During the meeting Tuesday, board member Michele Courton Brown said that she noticed an uptick in reports of disturbances and altercations on campus for the month of March.

A school official, Chuks Okoli, said the uptick came after the college revamped the reporting process to make it easier to report incidents.

Doris Bunte, a former state legislator who helped secure funding for the college, told board members that they need to respond to the reports and find out who is leaking material to the press.

“A responsibility is to find out who those people are and take care of them,’’ Bunte said.

She also praised Gomes for his work as president.

Gomes has also faced criticism for refusing to take part in a privately funded job-training program, as well as reports that spring semester financial aid payments have run about three months behind schedule for some 1,400 students, which administrators have blamed on computer problems.

Some faculty members have defended Gomes, including science professor Kyrsis Rodríguez, who recently wrote a letter published in the student newspaper insisting that Gomes did not refuse to participate in the job program. Rodríguez was present at the meeting with program representatives, she wrote.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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