Where many people pondering the future of Roxbury Community College might see uncertainty — or worse — Governor Deval Patrick sees a portal linking Roxbury to technology jobs that he says are going begging across the city.
The college, of course, is reeling. Rocked by allegations of financial struggles and underreported campus crime, its leadership is being rebuilt from the ground up.
A press release might say that Patrick appointed six new members of the board of trustees this week, but we can be candid and say he fired the old board (with one exception). In place of the band of cronies who had run the place into the ground, he has named a well-regarded group of businesspeople and activists.
They have no shortage of work to do, and their first task will be to find a new president to replace Terrence A. Gomes, who was forced out of office this summer.
In his first extended comments on the school’s woes, Patrick said Friday that both the neighborhood and the region need a thriving Roxbury Community College.
“It sits right next to some of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy,” Patrick said. “Those sectors need the talent coming through Roxbury and coming through Roxbury Community College.”
Though he did not say so yesterday, Patrick was outraged when RCC dropped the ball on a job-training program offered by the business community. The blown opportunity became a metaphor for the missed chances at the school.
Patrick said he replaced the board now because he had simply concluded that it was time for change.
“The time is always right to do better,” he said. “We have a growth strategy of [promoting] education, innovation, and infrastructure. It’s a working strategy. We need people, and there’s no reason that the talent at Roxbury shouldn’t be positioned to take advantage of those opportunities.”
The new chairwoman, Kathy Taylor, is a Roxbury native and entrepreneur. “I remember when it debuted with great fanfare,” she said. “I’ve sort of watched it as it’s gone through its peaks and valleys. I think a lot of really good things can come out of these graduates that haven’t been fully realized.”
No one doubts the school’s potential. But its present has been marked by declining enrollment and an exodus of its would-be students to Bunker Hill Community College, which now serves more students from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan than RCC does. There isn’t any big secret as to why: Students are opting to travel farther to a school that offers far more opportunity.
The road forward remains rocky. At least two entities — one federal, one state — are still investigating the college. In addition, Wayne Budd, a former federal prosecutor, was recently tapped to probe possible wrongdoing at the college.
For Patrick, RCC represents a constituency that is dear to him — not just politically, but personally. He is, after all, a person whose escape from poverty was famously fueled by education, and he has been privately pained by the failures at RCC, and frustrated that its insular and ineffective board was so slow to remove Gomes.
When asked about the ideal qualities of a new president, Patrick initially demurred. Then, tellingly, he basically described the opposite of the previous leadership.
“I think we’re going to want strong leadership with an inclination to look at the opportunities in the community and just beyond, and not just inward. The internal politics of the college have been part of the problem.”
Patrick said the changes at RCC were part of a larger mission to reshape community colleges to serve a 21st century workforce. “The issue of community college reform was never about one community college,” he said. “We have to engage community colleges to help people who are out of work and unlikely to go back to the jobs they used to have, to prepare them for the jobs there are.”
Roxbury Community College is a fine place to start.