One month after the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees voted to fire Columbia College President Dennis Gervin, the exact reasons for the move remain a mystery.
Gervin was placed on administrative leave by Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith on Feb. 22. Six days later, the college district trustees voted unanimously to end Gervin’s contract, effective April 30.
Yosemite Community College District Trustee Lynn Martin, who represents the area including Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, said trustees still can’t give reasons for Gervin’s firing. That’s because they have a legal obligation to protect his privacy, she said.
“If a board member were to say something, anything, we’d be open to litigation,” Martin said.
The board acted on Smith’s recommendation.
“With the information we were given, everybody said this was the right thing to do,” Martin said. “Would you think that seven board members would all of a sudden up and terminate a (college) president’s contract?... That decision had been months in coming.
...Here’s what I’ve been telling people...If I could tell you what I can’t tell you, you would support us,” Martin said.
Board Chairman Abe Rojas said in a Feb. 28 announcement that the dismissal followed an “extended process of performance evaluation,” but gave no other details.
A special board meeting scheduled for March 27 would have offered Gervin the opportunity to address the board on his firing. The meeting was cancelled because Gervin’s lawyer told the district he wasn’t going to attend, according to Smith.
“There is not present intention to reschedule the meeting,” Yosemite Community College District spokesman Nick Stavrianoudakis said in an email.
Gervin could not be reached Thursday. His Modesto-based attorney, Mina Ramirez, said she thought it “best for the parties involved not to comment at this time.”
Yosemite Community College District denied a Union Democrat public records request for Gervin’s most recent annual performance evaluation, citing an exemption to the California Public Records Act that protects against “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The district also denied a request for emails from Smith on the subject of Gervin’s firing, with the exception of one email to the Modesto Bee and another to Columbia College staff. The email to the Modesto Bee said Gervin’s contract was being ended “for cause” rather than bought out, and the email to college staff announced the board’s Feb. 28 decision. But neither message gave reasons for the firing.
An earlier Union Democrat request for legal claims filed against Columbia College since January 2012 yielded none that involved Gervin.
Columbia College staff contacted this week said Smith has told them nothing more about Gervin’s seemingly abrupt dismissal.
“The quiet has been deafening,” said Ted Hamilton, a Columbia College history professor and president-elect of the school’s Academic Senate.
He said he was concerned about a “pattern of lack of transparency” in district decisions and thought faculty members should have been given more opportunities for input on Gervin’s evaluation.
The college’s acting president is Leslie Buckalew, who has worked as the school’s vice president of student learning since last year.
“Do we have an acting president, do we have an interim (president) for a year, do we go out and look for a new president?” Hamilton said. “There’s all kinds of unanswered questions.”
Stavrianoudakis said Gervin remains on administrative leave until April 30 and pointed to a college district board policy on filling a presidential vacancy.
The policy says the chancellor will work with the board to “establish a search process” for a president and that the “search process(es) shall be fair, open and transparent.”
Ramirez told The Union Democrat earlier this month that Gervin will take legal action if his firing becomes final.
In February, he said a negative performance evaluation from Smith contained a “truly amazing number of significant misrepresentations” and that he had line-by-line documentation to dispute it.
“He’s at liberty to say anything that he wants,” Martin said. “We can’t counter. It’s kind of tough to keep your mouth shut.”
Faculty members have described Gervin as well-liked on campus, though not universally so.
At a March 13 Board of Trustees meeting, a few Columbia faculty members described the negative effect Gervin’s firing had on campus morale. But no staff made an outright request for his reinstatement as president.
“The final decision is the personnel decision of the Board of Trustees,” Hamilton said. “We’ve never disputed that. All we did is say ‘Look, you would be wise to listen to our input.’ ”
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