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RCC leaders pledge reforms, state officials express concern

State officials and leaders of Roxbury Community College said Monday they were keen to help the school rebuild itself in the face of a wide-ranging state auditor’s investigation and a concurrent federal probe into apparent lapses in reporting of alleged crimes on campus.

The college has been in turmoil since its president, Terrence Gomes, stepped down in June. In articles Sunday and Monday, the Globe detailed serious problems that may have contributed to his departure.

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“My mother called me. She was very concerned. She said, ‘I read the articles,’ ” said RCC’s board chairwoman, Kathy Taylor. “And I said, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to right the ship.’ ”

Taylor has been on the job only three weeks. She was appointed as part of an overhaul in which Governor Deval Patrick replaced not only her predecessor but also three other trustees.

Speaking on behalf of the Patrick administration, state Education Secretary Paul Reville expressed deep concern Monday for the school and its welfare.

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“Events like this shouldn’t happen anywhere on any campus. The fact that they did reflects a failure of leadership, and it put students at risk,” Reville said. “We’ve got to make sure that justice is done here and that this type of situation never happens again.”

Reville added that the school would be a test case for recent legislative changes giving the state more power over community college boards and presidential searches. He added that RCC would probably have a new president by summer at the latest.“To the right person, this represents a huge opportunity,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of good will.”

Linda Turner, interim president, said the college is addressing some of the problems described in the Globe investigation. For instance, it is using a federal grant to buy new whiteboards for classrooms that previously had blackboards covered with a layer of white paint as a cost-saving move. Some of the old boards have been replaced.

Turner said other projects that previously appeared to be low on the college’s list of priorities — a rebuilt cafeteria, a plan to work with community and state leaders to secure funds to restore a school-owned mansion, and a strong commitment to distributing financial aid correctly and on time — would move to the top.

“We’re being very cautious to make sure it’s right,” Turner said of the college’s advising software, which has in the past misclassified courses as eligible for federal financial aid, causing the school to distribute money incorrectly or delay aid payments while advisers did the software’s job by hand.

This fall, Turner vowed, “the checks will go out on time.”

In August, Turner fired Thomas Galvin, the college’s chief of security and facilities. On Monday, in a preparedc statement, she noted that “the individual who had the responsibility to report Clery Act violations as well as the responsibility to care for Dudley House is no longer employed by the college.”

But further personnel actions appear unlikely until the internal investigation, led by former federal prosecutor Wayne Budd, is finished. That will probably take months.

“I can assure you if his findings reveal any deficiencies,” said Turner’s statement, “we will attend to them at once.”

One RCC professor who spoke on condition of anonymity said faculty had been abuzz all morning, especially about the actions of administrators.

“There is certainly no sympathy for them,” he said, adding that it would be “good for the college to get this stuff out in the open and to put future administrators on notice that they have to be more transparent.”

Patrick is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. with community college presidents and business leaders “to discuss the next steps in strengthening the Commonwealth’s community colleges,” including an anticipated funding announcement.

And an RCC board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

If the meeting is anything like the one at which Gomes’s resignation was addressed, it will be contentious. On June 26, supporters of the school criticized its administration as out of touch with students.

Sadiki Kambon, director of the Black Community Information Center and leader of the activist group Friends of Roxbury Community College, reiterated that allegation on Monday.

“There’s a culture there that needs to be reversed,” he said. “The students have to be first.”

Kambon said he and many group members would be at Tuesday’s meeting, and “we expect a full house.”

RCC’s top administrators are required to attend board meetings.

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