College leader gets the ax

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat /

The Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to fire Columbia College Dennis Gervin, who was placed on administrative leave Feb. 22.

Gervin, 52, will have the opportunity to address the board regarding the termination of his contract, effective April 30, according to a statement read by Board Chairman Abe Rojas at the end of a closed-door meeting in Modesto.

He did not announce a date for Gervin's response.

Columbia's acting president is now Leslie Buckalew, who has worked as vice president of student learning since last year.

The choice to fire Gervin followed an "extended process of performance evaluation," Rojas said in the statement.

"Reluctantly, the Board concluded this decision had to be made for the good of the college," he said.

No other information was given at Thursday's meeting or in a Feb. 25 email to Columbia College faculty from Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith, which announced Gervin's leave.

Both Smith, herself a former Columbia College president, and district trustee Lynn Martin, who represents the area that includes Columbia College, have said they can't comment on actions related to personnel.

Gervin was not present for Thursday's announcement. Earlier this week, he told The Union Democrat he was shocked and blindsided by the news that he was being put on administrative leave.

He also said he has documentation to counter a performance evaluation from Smith. The evaluation contained criticisms of behavior but not allegations of major wrongdoing, according to Gervin.

"I am pleased and encouraged that I will have an opportunity to address any issues presented," he said Thursday. "I believe this must be a mistake … (I) look forward to addressing the concerns that the Chancellor has, and returning to serve the college as soon as possible."

Gervin has also said he doesn't want his absence to become a political conflict that mires the college down.

His current contract, for a base salary of about $190,000 a year, was issued in June 2012 and was set to last through June 2015. He said Smith informed him last week that it would not be renewed at that time.

The financial implications of his firing were unclear Thursday.

Columbia College art professor Laurie Sylwester said the faculty was stunned and perplexed by the news of Gervin's leave earlier this week.

Computer science professor Don Smith sent an email to The Union Democrat in support of Gervin.

"He works tirelessly to provide faculty and staff the best data possible to help us make good decisions," Don Smith wrote. "(He) is very level-headed, and extremely well-liked among the faculty that I work with. In other words, I think he's a great college president."

Buckalew has worked for several major technology companies such as Siemens, AT&T, Cisco and Adobe. Her professional experiences involves sales and marketing within the finance, education, healthcare, government and defense industries.

She has also held administrative positions at Hartnell College in Salinas and the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

"Her extensive background in both higher education and business equip her to uniquely assist and support students in their career and professional development," according to a biography for Buckalew provided by Yosemite Community College District.

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The Union Democrat
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