Metro

Faculty, students protest at Roxbury Community College

New president at center of discord

“Roberson’s administration has done enough damage,” said Ruth Keifson, an English professor and co-chair of the faculty union.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
“Roberson’s administration has done enough damage,” said Ruth Keifson, an English professor and co-chair of the faculty union.

Disgruntled faculty, staff, and students protested Thursday at Roxbury Community College against President Valerie Roberson and a “culture of fear and intimidation” they say she has created since she was hired in 2013 to turn around the long-troubled campus.

The rally followed a union vote of no confidence Wednesday by nearly two-thirds of the 130 unionized workers at the college, union leaders said.

Protesters took turns at the microphone to voice a litany of concerns, including allegations of no-bid contracts, unsafe science labs, and the forcing out of staff members.

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“Roberson’s administration has done enough damage,” said Ruth Kiefson, an English professor and cochair of the faculty union.

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Roberson, in a phone interview Thursday, dismissed the allegations, saying many stem from “unfortunate misunderstandings” on the part of longtime staff who have never known the college when it is managed properly.

The school’s board chairman, Gerald Chertavian, said the board has full confidence in Roberson and supports her effort to set the school on track. The state Department of Higher Education said it is reviewing all the union’s allegations and so far nothing has risen to the level of “serious concern.”

Roberson took over after Terrence Gomes stepped down amid allegations of financial mismanagement and a failure to report or investigate sexual assault on campus. She said she must pare operations to meet a budget that was millions of dollars in deficit, and that challenges include getting rid of ineffective staff members.

“Undoubtedly there are people who are not happy,” Roberson said Thursday.

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She did not attend the rally, where about 20 protesters held handmade posters and chanted as they marched around the yard outside the administration building.

Student Gemma Topaz, 22, said two of her classes were canceled this semester, including an internship.

“I spoke up and I was shut down. Nobody listened to me,” Topaz said. “It’s no longer about the students here; it’s about money and budget cuts.”

Miguel Coren, an information technology worker, said requests for details about Roberson’s overall plans for the school have been ignored.

Roberson confirmed that class sections have been cut and class sizes expanded because there were many sections with only a handful of students in them. The average class size is now 15 students, according to a document she provided.

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Staff complained that Roberson has fired 36 employees in 21 months. Roberson said the only layoffs have been to administrators and some grant-funded workers who were not replaced. Others left voluntarily, she said, denying that she forced anyone to resign.

With regard to two contracts, one for food services and another for IT work, that the union allege were issued without a bid process, Roberson said the school has a legal exemption to procurement laws and needed to move quickly to get contracts in place.

She acknowledged that her administration has made some mistakes during her tenure but said she is committed to helping the institution thrive.

“There’s no ill intent, we certainly intend to fix every problem,” she said.

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Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.