After eight years as president of Roxbury Community College, Dr. Valerie Roberson plans to step down from her role following calls for her resignation and reports of mismanagement.
Suffolk County Sheriff and RCC board chairman Steve W. Tompkins announced Roberson’s planned departure at a public board meeting Tuesday, thanking her for her service and acknowledging complaints issued to the board in a public comment forum.
“We’ve heard you, we will continue to listen to you,” Tompkins said. “We will continue to work with you, and we ask that you do likewise with us. As much as we hear you, we need you to hear us. I do believe that a lot of the vitriol that has surrounded the school is a contributory factor to why we don't have more students here."
A group of current and former employees wrote a letter to the board in October that detailed allegations of racism, discrimination and a toxic workplace culture stemming from upper management that they say has resulted in significant employee turnover.
“Roxbury Community College leadership may be portraying this turnover as a national trend that has been ever more exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads, “but this flood of employee departures is a direct result of the toxic, hostile, and discriminatory work environment created by President Roberson and Executive Vice President [Cecile] Regner.”
Since 2019, 30 employees in departments ranging from deans to nursing directors have resigned or been terminated from administrative positions at the public college. Eighty percent of those who left are people of color, according to internal data acquired by GBH News.
Nate Simms, a former RCC employee who helped pen the letter, reiterated the call for Regner’s resignation during a public comment period in the meeting.
“It's important to recognize that the college is in a potentially catastrophic stage of dilapidation,” Simms said. “Our officials in our community now seem to be getting together to take the necessary action to address these issues. ... However, clearly we want the termination of Executive Vice President Cecile Regner first and foremost.”
No announcements were given from the board regarding Regner’s status. Regner did not immediately return a GBH News request for comment.
The letter also alleged that faculty contracts have been signed late, meaning that instructors have taught without contracts and received payment weeks or even months late, at times resulting in the cancelation of classes.
“An employer has to pay its employees properly,” mathematics professor John McColgan said during the meeting’s public comment period. “Unfortunately, Roxbury Community College has failed this obligation.”
An internal audit released in October shows at least 15 instances of full-time faculty and professional staff being paid less than they were contractually owed, an issue that McColgan said was brought to the board’s attention as early as July.
“I want to be clear we are not talking about hazard pay for working during a pandemic, nor are we talking about overtime for all the extra hours spent adapting courses online,” McColgan said. “We’re talking about the bare contractual minimum.”
Loretta Minor, a longtime academic coordinator at RCC, said that extreme employee turnover is the result of negligence that directly impacts students’ educational pathways and leads students to enroll at other schools.
“If we’re not addressing some of the root issues of why people are leaving, then what it’s going to consistently do is hurt our students,” Minor said during the meeting. “And really, I’m speaking on behalf of the students who talk to me daily and are dissatisfied with the product that we are delivering. We are in an underserved community.”
In the fall semester of 2021, RCC had an undergraduate enrollmentof 1,144, a decline of 35% from the fall of 2019 — the steepest decline among all community colleges.
In an audit report, state auditors revealed that RCC management failed to implement recommendations to improve management at the school’s Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center, and that management failed to conduct Sex Offender Registry Information background checks on 13 of the 19 RCC employees reviewed the audit period, from 2017-2019.
Background checks on employees cited in the audit have now been conducted, Roberson said during the meeting.
“There were no instances of issues within their past, so we felt comfortable in that,” Roberson said, “but going forward, we have instituted policies within HR to ensure that all staff, including temporary workers, have the appropriate and required background checks.”
The state audit also found that RCC made overpayments totaling $28,967 to some of its employees.
“This audit shows that internal controls still need strengthening and that certain revenue constraints should be reconsidered,” State Auditor Suzanne Bump said in a statement. “...any shortfalls in covering the costs of the RLTAC mean that RCC students have to subsidize its operation. I hope that RCC and the Legislature can effectively address this situation.”
Roberson began her position as president at RCC in 2013. The search for her replacement is slated to begin soon, according to Tompkins, though a specific timeline was not provided.