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Roxbury college draws scrutiny for apparent gaps in crime reports

Controversies for leader mount

President Terrence Gomes has been under fire over other decisions. President Terrence Gomes has been under fire over other decisions.
By Adrian Walker
Globe Staff / May 15, 2012
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Federal officials are auditing Roxbury Community College for suspected lapses in its reporting of crimes committed on campus - the latest in a series of controversies for college president Terrence Gomes.

Officials with the US Department of Education were expected to arrive on campus Tuesday seeking to find out why the college has failed to report serious allegations of crimes on campus. The officials have unofficially learned of at least three reports by students of such crimes, including sexual assault, over the past several years, according to a person familiar with the inquiry.

Federal law requires that allegations of all felony-level crimes be sent to police to investigate. In addition, the federal Clery Act requires all colleges and universities to submit an annual campus crime report.

Since 2008, the college has reported only six on-campus crimes to federal officials - one robbery and five aggravated assaults, characterized by a college official as fistfights, documents provided the Globe show. Those numbers, seen as unusually low for an urban campus, and the absence of more major offenses drew the attention of federal investigators, according to a person familiar with the inquiry.

Tuesday marks the second time federal education officials have visited the college to seek out crime report records and related information.

Department of Education officials first requested the college’s crime information in February. In a Feb. 27 letter to Gomes, the Department of Education asked for access to a variety of college records, so that officials can “evaluate your institution’s compliance with the . . . Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. . .’’ Failure to provide access, the letter said, could result in “administrative action against the institution’’ - including fines or a loss of funding. Officials are seeking reports dating to 2006.

In addition to filing crime statistics with the federal government, colleges are also required to post that information on their websites.

At least three Roxbury Community College students over the last two years have reported previous crimes - including sexual assaults - on the campus, according to a two college officials who requested anonymity. One student wrote a memo to school officials describing separate sexual assaults at the hands of two staff members, including one of her professors, the official said. A copy of the memo was provided to the Globe.

There is no record that either alleged assault was reported to Boston police. An administrator later told other officials that the allegations were without merit, though the student’s financial aid was immediately increased, according to college officials with knowledge of the situation.

The campus crime audit comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the 2,000-student community college. Board members have been baffled by Gomes’s refusal to take part in a privately funded job-training program that would have come at no expense to the college.

At the same time, spring semester financial aid payments to some 1,400 students have run about three months behind schedule. Administrators have blamed the delay on a computer problem, though other officials attribute it to ineffective student advising.

Hanging in the balance is Gomes’s future at the school. Trustees scheduled an emergency meeting Monday night on campus to discuss his tenure. Board chairwoman Anita Crawford could not be reached for comment Monday.

Gomes, who became president in 2003, joined the campus after serving as a vice president at Massasoit Community College. However, according to his online biography, his ties to Roxbury Community College date to 1977, when he was hired as assistant dean of faculty. The recent spate of negative news articles has prompted a handful of faculty members to come to his defense, though others have quietly expressed disappointment in his leadership.

Gomes has declined to comment on the recent controversies on campus. However, the college has sought the communications assistance of the downtown crisis managers O’Neill and Associates, which has sought to portray him as a committed leader under attack from the city’s power structure.

That portrayal, however, is sharply at odds with that of business leaders and Beacon Hill insiders who insist that Gomes inexplicably declined to give his support to a job training program intended to offer job opportunities to Roxbury Community College students.

The program - which had the support and financial backing of several corporate executives - is now headquartered at Bunker Hill Community College.

State officials say the school’s graduation rate is a mere 6 percent. However, some Roxbury officials maintain that not all of their students are interested in degrees, and that many face personal challenges that lead to spotty performance.

That debate, however, could pale in comparison to findings of unreported crime - particularly unreported serious crimes. Federal sanctions could include loss of funding. Colleges have argued that only allegations resulting in police investigations are covered under the law, a notion the federal government disputes.

Roxbury Community College is no stranger to controversy. Another president was fired in the early 1990s after the college was discovered to be receiving federal funding for a bogus English as a Second Language program.

Suspicions were raised when the school suddenly became home to a large number of Russian-speaking students with no ties to Roxbury. Lured by the promise of financial aid money with no heavy effort, they signed up, even though many of them had already been to college. One, in fact, was a surgeon.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.

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