Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Columbia College President Dennis Gervin was abruptly placed on administrative leave Feb. 22, with Vice President of Student Learning Leslie Buckalew named as the college's acting president.

The switch was announced in a Monday email to Columbia College faculty from Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith. The district includes both Columbia College and Modesto Junior College.

The brief email indicated Gervin was "on leave" and Buckalew was acting president. It did not describe the nature of the leave or give any explanation.

Gervin himself confirmed that he was on paid administrative leave, but said he didn't know why.

"You know just about as much as I do about what's occurred," Gervin said.

He said Smith advised him last week that his contract, issued June 2012, would not be renewed when it expires in June 2015. The contract placed his base salary at about $190,000.

He was called to the community college district's main office in Modesto on Friday.

"I was pretty stunned," Gervin said. "They told me I was on paid administrative leave and not to go on campus."

Smith offered him no reasons Friday, he said. He was later told the leave will last indefinitely and that he would be discussed at a Yosemite Community College District board meeting, then advised of the outcome.

He plans to ask that the proceedings be public rather than held behind closed doors.

Columbia College art professor Laurie Sylwester said the situation was a total shock to her and other staff members, who remain in the dark about the reasons for Gervin's administrative leave.

"It's unsettling, and it leaves a knot in all our stomachs," Sylwester said.

Yosemite Community College District spokesman Nick Stavrianoudakis confirmed Gervin was on leave but said he had no additional information. Smith told The Union Democrat Wednesday she couldn't comment on personnel actions, regardless of who the employee was.

Likewise, Yosemite Community College District board Trustee Lynn Martin - who represents the area that includes Columbia College - said she was legally barred from commenting on personnel.

Gervin said that other than an "unflattering" annual evaluation from Smith last week, he had no indication he was in trouble. The evaluation focused on behavior, but he says he has documentation to refute the criticisms.

He said he isn't aware of any complaints made against him by Columbia College employees, engaged in no wrongdoing and hopes to return to his post at the school.

"I really poured my heart and soul into this place," Gervin said. "There has to be some sort of due process...If this is a fair and just (college) system, I have nothing to fear."

He has been Columbia's president since summer 2011, when the college district board selected him over two other candidates by a unanimous vote.

He had served as the school's vice president of student learning since 2005 and held other administrative posts there. He worked under Smith while she was president of Columbia College.

Gervin also held administrative positions at Modesto Junior College, where he started as a biology and microbiology professor.

As acting president of Columbia College, Buckalew will take on Gervin's duties.

Sylwester said that while she remained perplexed and concerned by Gervin's sudden absence, she was also confident in Buckalew.

"She's astounding," Sylwester said. "She's really on top of things."

Buckalew worked as dean of instruction at Hartnell College in Salinas, held several Bay Area jobs at technology companies such as Adobe and Cisco, and was an administrator at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

She has served as Columbia College's vice president of student learning since January 2012.