Gervin firing remains mystery

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith told Columbia College faculty Friday that she can't give details about the abrupt firing of college President Dennis Gervin.

The college district's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to terminate Gervin's contract Feb. 28, following an announcement from Smith three days earlier that he was "on leave."

Comments by board members have been limited to a statement by Board Chairman Abe Rojas, who said the dismissal was the "culmination of an extended process of performance evaluation."

Gervin will have an opportunity to address the Board of Trustees regarding the termination of his contract before it becomes final on April 30.

The date for Gervin's meeting with the board has not been set, said district spokesman Nick Stavrianoudakis.

"I wish Dennis the best in his future pursuits," Smith said in her Friday email to Columbia College staff. "I cannot always share what I know or what is happening … the board and I cannot and do not discuss personnel actions with anyone, especially the media.

"There are many reasons for this practice," she said.

She added that Leslie Buckalew, Columbia's vice president of student learning, will continue as the school's acting president "until a process and timeline are developed to fill the Columbia College presidential vacancy."

Gervin told The Union Democrat on Feb. 28 that he believed there "must be a mistake" and hoped to address Smith's concerns so he could return to work. Earlier, he said Smith misrepresented him in a negative performance evaluation.

His contract, issued June 2012 for a salary of $189,487, was set to last through June 2015 - with annual raises dependent on satisfactory performance evaluations. It included health benefits, life insurance and a monthly car allowance of $800.

The contract may be ended by mutual agreement of both Gervin and the board, terminated "for cause," or bought out. Buying out the contract would have meant paying Gervin 18 months worth of salary and benefits.

Instead, the board is ending Gervin's contract for cause, Stavrianoudakis said.

Columbia College faculty said they were stunned by the move and had no information on why it was made.

"It's not our position to comment on the board's decisions," said math professor John Leamy, who is president of the Columbia College Academic Senate. "But the emotional reaction is shock and surprise."

Columbia professors issued a statement of their own Friday to address the school's academic standing, emphasizing that it's still fully accredited.

Accreditation is a formal stamp of approval that vouches for the quality of a school's programs. Schools that lose their regional accreditation can no longer accept federal financial aid, and credits students earned there aren't transferable.

Leamy said the "misconception" that Columbia has already lost accreditation, or is at immediate risk of losing it, has been circulating in the community.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges issued Columbia College a "warning" last year, the mildest of three sanctions, and told it to develop better methods for evaluating its own programs.

Schools given warnings rarely go on to lose their accreditation, according to the accreditation commission. Leamy said faculty members are "confident" they're making progress toward lifting the warning.

In the meantime, Columbia remains accredited, and credits earned there still transfer.

Smith assured Columbia faculty that Gervin's firing wouldn't compromise its progress.

The Union Democrat
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