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Roxbury college trustees confront turmoil

Board meets amid budget cuts and federal inquiry

Chuks Okoli, Roxbury Community College vice president of administration and finance, addressed the college’s board of trustees.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Chuks Okoli, Roxbury Community College vice president of administration and finance, addressed the college’s board of trustees.

Roxbury Community College’s new board of trustees convened for the first time Tuesday amid dramatic developments at the school, including campuswide budget cuts and the disclosure that a personnel file critical to a federal probe had been discovered after extensive past searches failed to turn it up.

Also on Tuesday, RCC won $35,517 from a new Board of Higher Education fund, a welcome grant, but a noticeably lower amount than was given to the state’s other 14 community colleges on the same day.

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The board meeting, which drew about 40 people, included a discussion of the school’s upcoming search for a permanent president and its efforts to put together a search committee.

RCC will be Massachusetts’ first public college to choose a president with state authorities looking over its shoulder. Legislative changes in July established a new process that allows the Board of Higher Education to appoint one committee member and to ­issue strong search guidelines.

Paul Alexander, human ­resources director, told the board that a search for a new facilities and security chief is ongoing and that officials are looking for someone with specific experience with federal crime statistics reporting. He said the school had identified a number of qualified candidates.

The public discussion period at the meeting had been highly anticipated by many on campus. Community activist Sadiki Kambon, a leader of Friends of Roxbury Community College, told the Globe Monday that he was expecting “a full house” of supporters.

But the discussion period was subdued. Only Kambon spoke, saying that while recent press reports might be partially to blame for negative perceptions of the school, “there’s a culture here that has to be ­reversed,” with some students feeling “rudely treated.”

He also said that the college has great potential and that he was encouraged by the makeup of the new board.

“I would hope there’s going to be a welcoming spirit here” going forward, he said.

Board chairwoman Kathy Taylor said after the public comment period that the board was going into executive session to discuss possible litigation, though she did not provide any details.

Earlier in the day, RCC’s budget director had put every department on notice: At the request of its vice president of administration and finance, budgets for all operations ­except grants were being cut by 5.4 percent.

The budget director did not list any reasons for the cuts in an e-mail to colleagues. But campus officials with direct knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity ­because they were not authorized to speak for the school, said the college was facing unexpectedly low enrollment; its projected head count for the ­semester was off by 6 percent. Enrollment this fall is 2,674.

RCC received extra funds Tuesday: an infusion from the state’s new Performance Incentive Fund, established in July. The grant will support the college’s well-regarded nursing ­assistant training program and an English education project that the school collaborates on with the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Announcing the Performance Incentive Fund winners Tuesday, state officials said that all 15 community colleges had applied for the grants and that proposals from the schools had been funded at some level.

However, at $35,517, RCC’s grant was noticeably lower than those of its counterparts. The average grant for the other community colleges was $193,002. The second-lowest grant was $88,000.

Commissioner of Higher ­Education Richard Freeland told the Globe that the grant proposals had been evaluated on their merits, though the evaluation process had also taken other factors into account, including the fact that some community colleges are facing unusual challenges.

Finally, on Tuesday, Alexander revealed an explosive new detail related to the ongoing federal investigation of potential lapses in crime reporting at the college.

Internal auditors hired by the school’s trustees had previously interviewed Alexander about the whereabouts of a personnel file belonging to Orikaye Brown-West, an administrator and professor who was accused of sexual assault by two students in 2006 and 2010 respectively. Neither of the assault ­allegations was included in crime statistics required by law to be reported to the federal ­Department of Education.

The internal audit, completed several months ago, said the school “was unable to locate [Brown-West’s] personnel file” on request. It further noted that Alexander said he had “repeatedly searched for the personnel file, during his tenure of ­employment at the college, without success.”

But Alexander told the Globe Tuesday that a little over a month ago, he was rummaging through the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in a room used to store employee papers. There he found an unmarked folder, which contained Brown-West’s file, he said.

The information in the folder has been given to the Department of Education, which requested it several months ago.

Alexander said the room where the file was found had been locked, but that many people may have had access to it in recent months. “I don’t believe the key for that room had been changed in years,” he said.

He recently installed an electronic security system. Finding the file little more than a month ago after repeated failures, he said, had been “kind of like the last straw.”

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

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