Report details lapses by administrators at Roxbury Community College
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Roxbury Community College released a troubling report today chronicling systemic lapses over the past decade by former and current administrators that caused the school to violate federal campus safety laws and apparently lose track of a significant amount of money.
The report, prepared at the college’s request by former federal prosecutor Wayne Budd, says senior administrators failed to properly investigate sexual assault allegations against two school employees, apparently paying off one of the accusers, a struggling student, “so that she would not pursue the matter further.”
It also says the school’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center has no documentation on file for many years of cash income from ticket sales -- a discrepancy likely to concern state auditors, who are investigating allegations that some facility employees have taken cuts for themselves.
In general, the report paints the school’s administration under former president Terrence Gomes as ineffectual. It suggests that past board members did little to oversee RCC and notes that some senior officials may have been feeding the board “less than fulsome or even inaccurate information” about the college’s well-being.
“You see a very positive picture consistently being reported to the board,” said Damian Wilmot, a key member of the team that worked under Budd at the law firm Goodwin Procter to prepare the report. “Then the bottom falls out.”
The college was roiled last summer when Gomes stepped down amid news of federal and state investigations into lapses in crime reporting and alleged financial improprieties. Those investigations are still ongoing. A Globe series in September also uncovered a wide range of issues with campus safety, academic advising, and hiring and financial practices.
Governor Deval Patrick replaced most of RCC’s board in the summer, and civic leaders have said they are committed to rebuilding the institution.
The new board has pledged to institute several reforms in response to Budd’s report. It plans to require extensive legal and ethical training for administrators, to strengthen security policies, to create a new position for a compliance officer, and to more closely oversee financial and administrative issues at the athletic center as well as the rest of the college.
“There’s reason to put your faith back in the school,” said Kathy Taylor, chairwoman of the college’s board.
Budd said the board had settled on those reforms after lengthy discussions with his team about how to ensure there would be no repeat of past mistakes.
“We see this largely as, how do we make this better?” he said. “We truly believe at the end of the day that RCC is uniquely positioned to create a new and fresh start.”
The board decided to release Budd’s report on RCC’s website today at 3 p.m., even though the document falls under the attorney-client privilege exemption from state public records law, Wilmot said.
“They didn’t have to publish it,” he said of the college. “It could have been protected and sitting in a drawer.”
The Globe will ask the RCC administrators named in the report for comment once they have had a chance to read it.
Several of those named are no longer at the college, including Gomes and Alane Shanks, the former vice president for administration and finance, who became president of Pine Manor College in 2011 but went on paid leave from that job in the wake of the Globe investigation.
RCC’s most recent security chief, Thomas Galvin -- one of two whistle-blowers who initially brought the school’s troubles to the attention of federal and state authorities -- was fired over the summer in connection with concerns over the enforcement of campus safety laws. He is suing the school for wrongful termination.
The rest of RCC’s senior administrators remain in place. It is unclear whether they will keep their jobs. Taylor said those decisions would wait until a new college president is named later this year.
The new report was based on some 120,000 documents and 55 interviews with college personnel and students -- although its mandate is more narrow than other recent investigations of the college. It focuses largely on the cases of three RCC employees who were accused of sexual misconduct.
In one of the three cases, the report found that there was no wrongdoing.
An employee at the Lewis Center was accused of statutory rape. But the investigators found no reliable evidence that the incident occurred, and further found that any sexual contact could not have been statutory rape because the supposed victim was not a minor at the time. They concluded that college authorities had conducted a sufficient investigation of the matter.
But the other two cases explored in the report paint a disturbing picture.
In both, senior administrators at the college largely brushed aside sexual assault allegations made by vulnerable women. In the process they appear to have caused the college to violate two federal laws: the campus crime reporting requirement known as the Clery Act, and the Title IX statute that covers sexual harassment.
One of the cases concerns Orikaye Brown-West, RCC’s security chief until 2006. The report details several alleged instances of sexually threatening behavior on his part. The college dismissed him after he made coercive advances on a female student, it said, but administrators never told the board of the matter nor did they properly report several allegations against him to the federal Department of Education.
In 2008, another student began to complain repeatedly to several administrators that an instructor – later revealed to be Brown-West -- had sexually assaulted her five years earlier. She wrote that she felt “violated,” humiliated, and unsafe on campus, and begged for help.
Eventually, almost all the college’s senior administrators became aware of her complaints, according to the report. But they failed to investigate them or to promptly tell the security chief at the time to include them in Clery Act data, nor did they “ensure that [the student] felt safe to attend class,” as required by Title IX. The student subsequently flunked out.
It is possible some administrators did not help the student because they did not realize they were legally required to do so. For instance, Stephanie Janey, the vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, told Budd’s team she “lacked knowledge of Title IX” – despite being the school’s official Title IX coordinator for students.
At least one administrator, former vice president Shanks, seems to have dismissed the student’s allegation because she did not find it credible. Shanks told Budd’s team that the student recanted the allegation during a meeting in September 2010.
Budd’s team, however, could find no supporting evidence that the student had ever taken back her allegation. Brenda Mercomes, vice president for academic affairs, who was also in the September meeting, told Budd’s team that the student had not, in fact, recanted. The Globe has interviewed the student several times and found her adamant that she had been assaulted.
Shortly after her meeting with Shanks and Mercomes, according to the report, the student met with human resources director Paul Alexander, who made a note that she had agreed to “not sign anything as a condition of continued enrollment.” After that, Alexander dropped the matter.
In the same month, according to the report, Shanks arranged for the student -- who was struggling academically -- to be given the amount of her fall 2010 tuition. Although many administrators were consulted about the so-called “Presidential Scholarship,” no one seems to have questioned whether it was appropriate to offer the student money.
The student, a single mother, received no financial aid the following semester and ran up a $1,056 balance. RCC administrators later arranged to recoup the money by claiming part of a tax refund she was due. She has not re-enrolled at the school, and in interviews with the Globe she has said her interactions with administrators left her deeply traumatized.
The final case in the Budd report concerns sexual assault allegations against Frank Jackson, an employee at the Lewis Center. Investigators found evidence that some of the allegations were likely false, though the report notes “there is some evidence to support” one allegation made by a young woman who had been working at RCC and training at the center.
The investigators concluded that the college’s response to that allegation was “less prompt – and less thorough – than it could have been.”
Alexander, who oversees Title IX matters that apply to employees, learned of the young woman’s allegation against Jackson in August 2011. But he did not contact her until Dec. 23, when he made a single phone call to her.
A few days later, Alexander placed Jackson on administrative leave. But he reinstated him within a month after Boston Police dropped their own investigation of the case. The Budd report criticizes that decision, noting that police closed their case not because of doubts about the allegation’s veracity but because the young woman -- who had been living in the country illegally and had subsequently left for Jamaica -- did not want to return to Boston for questioning.
Budd team’s also investigated allegation that staffers at the center had been “skimming money from events” during which tickets were sold at the door.
The investigators were unable to prove or disprove the allegation because, according to the report, the facility has no documentation of cash collected at events prior to 2012.
“No one’s finding receipts of how many tickets were sold, how much cash was received,” said Wilmot. “Things you would expect to find are just not there.”
Taylor said the board had brought in an outside consultant to help it more closely oversee the school’s financial resources, including those at the Lewis Center.Mary Carmichael can be reached at email@example.com