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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Supporters question Columbia president firing

Supporters question Columbia president firing

Supporters of Columbia College President Dennis Gervin questioned Yosemite Community College District trustees Wednesday on their recent decision to fire him. 

The Board of Trustees has not released information on the reasons for Gervin’s dismissal Feb. 28 beyond citing an “extended process of performance evaluation.”

Columbia College faculty members reported being shocked and confused by the sudden move.

Gervin’s advocates at Wednesday’s meeting included Columbia College Foundation board member Randy Selesia and former San Francisco District Attorney Arlo Smith, whose other career posts included state chief assistant attorney general.

After the meeting had adjourned, Smith — now a friend and neighbor of Gervin’s — told trustees they acted before they “heard from the college community or from … constituents.” 

Trustees said input from the public was not required before the decision was made. 

“We had certain rules to abide by, and we abided by them,” said Trustee Tom Hallinan.

Gervin was not present at Wednesday’s meeting. 

He had been Columbia College president since summer 2011, when trustees chose him over two other candidates by unanimous vote. 

He said in a Feb. 27 Union Democrat interview that he was abruptly placed on administrative leave without being given a clear reason. 

He also said he has documentation to counter an “unflattering” performance evaluation from Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith that “misrepresented” his behavior. 

Joan Smith said in a Feb. 27 email to The Union Democrat that the district  “cannot comment on personnel actions regardless of who the (employees) are.” 

Selesia urged the trustees Wednesday to interview Mother Lode citizens about Gervin. Gervin’s friend Carleton Penwell, of Columbia, said he was a “strong and passionate advocate for students.”

“The community is very upset,” said Selesia, who is president of Vic’s Towing in Sonora. “They are very much behind Dr. Gervin … His integrity is beyond reproach.”

A group of Columbia College Foundation board members and others who support Gervin have met to consider action on his behalf. 

But it was stalled by the lack of information about why he was fired, according to Bill Dunlavy, an honorary foundation board member. 

“The (Yosemite Community College District) board fired him ‘with cause,’ and we haven’t been able to pick up any real reason,” Dunlavy said. “The board won’t disclose anything at all.”

Faculty members spoke Wednesday about the effect of Gervin’s firing on college morale.

“The campus climate is very, very distressed,” said Micha Miller, a Columbia College biology professor who has worked there 17 years.

“This is the lowest I’ve seen morale here since I started at this campus,” he said. “This was a ripping kind of event … I just hope … you guys have done your research and done your due diligence, because from our perspective it’s just been pain.” 

Gervin’s firing caused staff to believe they should “keep their heads down” so they won’t be the next to go, said Columbia College Academic Senate President John Leamy. 

He urged trustees to do what they could to ease fear at the college.

Joan Smith made no comment on Gervin’s dismissal at Wednesday’s board meeting, but trustees said the choice was not one they reached lightly. Board of Trustees Chairman Abe Rojas said the board was “aware of many things” that it couldn’t share because of privacy rules surrounding personnel.

“You need to know that this is not an abrupt decision made by the board, that Dr. Gervin was provided with the reasons that this decision was made — both verbally and in writing,” Trustee Anne DeMartini said. 

Gervin’s attorney, Mina Ramirez, of Modesto, said the letter given to him after the board vote Feb. 28  “did not explain the basis of his termination.” 

Ramirez said he’s still unaware of a cause for his firing beyond the recent performance evaluation from Smith, which he plans to dispute. 

“The Board of Trustees’ action in voting to terminate President Gervin’s contract was taken without providing (him) with sufficient notice and opportunity to defend himself against unfounded allegations,” Ramirez said in a prepared statement given to The Union Democrat Wednesday. 

“… We are confident that once the board has heard and seen the overwhelming evidence in his defense … (it) will move to immediately rescind its action,” she said. 

Gervin’s contract stipulates that he must have the chance to address the Board of Trustees before his firing becomes final April 30. The hearing is scheduled for March 27, according to Ramirez. 

She said that if the board finalizes Gervin’s firing, he will take legal action. 

“He’ll pursue all legal remedies available to him,” Ramirez said. “We believe his termination was procedurally deficient and that he was deprived of his right to due process.” 


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