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Roxbury college leader to step down

Oversight record prompted US audit; faculty defends Gomes’s leadership

THE BOSTON GLOBE/FILE 2003

Terrence Gomes has been the college president for nine years.

The president of Roxbury Community College, Terrence Gomes, said Monday that he would step down, a move that followed weeks of allegations — including underreported campus crime, financial mismanagement, and missed educational opportunities — that raised questions about his administration.

“After days of deliberation and careful consideration, I have decided that it is in the best interest of Roxbury Community College, my professional career, and my family to retire,’’ effective June 30, Gomes wrote in a campuswide e-mail, citing a number of milestones the school has reached over the last few years but adding, “There is still so much that needs to be accomplished.’’

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Details of his severance package were not immediately available Monday. He made $196,749 a year as the college’s president.

School trustees will next meet June 26 and are expected to nominate an interim president within two weeks. Their choice will need approval by the state Board of Higher Education.

Gomes’s departure had been expected, but it left many on campus wondering what could be next for the school, which is facing a wide-ranging audit by the US Department of Education.

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Gomes, president for nine years, may not be the last to leave. Several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the audit is looking at other members of the administration. Of particular concern are alleged sexual crimes against students that may have gone unreported.

But Roxbury Community College board chairwoman Anita Crawford said no one else is expected to leave immediately. “For now,’’ she said, “the current team will remain intact.’’

The college is already responding to one concern raised by the Department of Education, regarding inadequate computer settings that control how financial aid is disbursed. Because of a problem with the settings, top administrators recently had to delay financial aid checks for hundreds of students. An internal investigation recently distributed to the trustees suggested that the school contact other institutions to find out how to avoid such issues.

Faculty members frequently complain about small problems: whiteboards so worn that they can not be written on, for instance, and bathrooms that go weeks without cleaning.

But many professors and administrators have rallied around Gomes in recent weeks. They said they were frustrated that he had been largely unable to respond to recent allegations because the board of trustees told him not to speak to reporters.

Some faculty said Monday they did not believe the college’s issues were more severe than those at similar schools.

“We think that probably hundreds of colleges have issues with reporting their crime data,’’ said Jon Ball, a math teacher. “This feels like an exceedingly safe place.’’

Some also said they feared the president’s departure could be used by outsiders to revise the school’s goals. The role of community colleges - in particular, the question of whether they should focus on quickly funneling students into the workplace instead of enabling them to transfer to four-year institutions - has been a topic of heated debate for months.

In recent weeks, Gomes turned down a program that would have offered job training to students. His supporters have countered that the program’s backers simply showed up unannounced, when he was out, to discuss the program.

“I guess some people see Gomes as insufficiently servile to the business community,’’ said Ball. “But why should he jump because business leaders happen to call? I think that’s where a lot of the anger is coming from.’’

Ball, like many others at the school, cited a widely held fear that the college could be forced to merge with Bunker Hill Community College.But Richard Freeland, the state’s higher education commissioner, strongly disputed the possibility.

“It’s simply not on the radar screen,’’ he said. “Whoever is perpetuating that rumor is just trying to upset people. It’s mischievous and not helpful.’’

Gomes has worked in higher education for more than four decades. He was a dean at Roxbury Community College in the 1970s before assuming a similar post at Massasoit Community College. He returned to the Roxbury campus in 2002 as vice president for academic affairs before assuming his current post in 2003.

As president, he was perceived by many as a competent leader who was making incremental but important progress at the college.

In April, the school - which Mayor Thomas M. Menino had previously criticized as doing too little to train its students for biomedical careers - was promised $20.7 million by the state to build a new life sciences center.

And in 2009, Diverse, a news magazine focused on higher education access, wrote glowingly about the college, saying that under Gomes it had “transformed itself from scandal-plagued to a college of choice.’’

Freeland said he hoped that was how Gomes would be remembered. “This is an institution that has made significant progress under Terry’s leadership,’’ he said. “Yes, there is an investigation; yes, there’s been some negative media. But that’s not the future of Roxbury Community College.’’

As for a permanent replacement, Crawford said she would be open to someone outside academia. “The college may just as well be served by someone from the business community, or from a different industry,’’ she said.

Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com.
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