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Adrian Walker

A fresh start for Roxbury Community College

For months now, Roxbury Community College has lived in a state of suspended animation, unable to move past the administrative and legal woes that have dogged it without addressing their causes.

To briefly recap: the college has been roiled by allegations of financial mismanagement and failure to comply with mandatory requirements to report campus crime and other allegations. Its former president, Dr. Terrence A. Gomes, was forced to retire, and Governor Deval Patrick replaced almost all of the school’s board of trustees.

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The new trustees, headed by businesswoman Kathy Taylor, tapped former US Attorney Wayne A. Budd to examine many of the allegations. His report — prepared with the assistance of a team from his law firm, Goodwin Procter — confirmed many of the most serious allegations of wrongdoing that had prompted federal and state investigations.

The sobering report concludes that administrators failed to act on some allegations of sexual misconduct, and were far from thorough regarding others. They found that the school failed to report allegations of campus crime for years, despite being required by law to do so. Investigators concluded that one student who had registered a credible complaint of sexual assault by a professor (since deceased) was magically awarded a “Presidential Scholarship,” likely in a bid to buy her silence.

It found that college administrators, past and present, were untrained about the laws they were entrusted in enforcing, and hapless in protecting student safety.

They found that the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center — which falls under the administration of the college — collected cash at events for years, but could produce no receipts for the money before 2012.

They found, in short, a place that was barely administered at all.

Let’s pause to point out that this report, thorough as it is, did not examine all of the serious allegations against RCC.

It did not, for example, delve into the alleged student-advising crisis that made it difficult for many students to receive financial aid in a timely fashion. (The school’s financial issues, in general, fell outside the purview of this investigation.) It did not examine the academic void that has led thousands of students in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan to bypass RCC for Bunker Hill Community College, out of the desire to attend a functioning institution. It did not look into the climate of fear and intimidation that some administrators have cited as a major impediment to doing their jobs. (Though it did put to rest the notion that criticism of the college was manufactured by malcontent employees and the media.)

This report offers Taylor and the rest of the new board two things that are important. Those are a fresh start and a road map for what needs to change.

Taylor has pledged a new era of transparency at the school. The college deserves credit for releasing the full report, which is technically not a public record. Secrecy was at the heart of RCC’s woes: when the Globe began reporting on the problems, college employees were afraid even to be seen with a journalist. Openness is an absolute requirement going forward, and I hope Taylor will not retreat from that.

But another issue is the dismal state of RCC’s senior management. Budd and his partner, Damian Wilmot, may have understated matters when they cited poor training as a huge factor in the mismanagement at the school. They were poorly trained, yes, but some of them are also garden-variety incompetents.

Some of the administrators who abetted years of wrongdoing have moved on — prominent among them Gomes and Alane Shanks, a former RCC vice president who is now president of Pine Manor College, which has placed her on paid leave as a result of the RCC investigation.

But others remain, in jobs at which they have already plainly failed. I was disheartened when Taylor, in an interview Monday, suggested that some of the administrators might improve with better training. More likely, they all need to go.

RCC is in the early stages of a search for a new leader. They need a strong administrator, obviously, who can assemble a top-flight management team. They need someone with the vision to transform the school into a leader in workforce development. RCC is a 10-minute walk from the booming Longwood Medical Area, but for many of its students, it might as well be another world. That must change, both for the sake of RCC and for the city.

But the new president, with the support of the board, has a chance to be a catalyst for more than simply job training. RCC was founded in 1973 in the hope of providing opportunity to a community that much of Boston preferred to ignore. Not just a community college, but a beacon of hope.

That hope has been squandered lately. This would be the perfect time to revive it.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker
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