NEWARK CHURCH LEADER: Essex County College’s closing could mean another 1967

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Bishop Jethro James–he remembers 1967

A prominent Newark clergyman raised the spectre of disorder in the city’s streets unless Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo acts quickly to restore the academic independence of Essex County College , plug a budget shortfall at the school, and help the two-year college remain open and fully accredited.

“We could be back in 1967,” warned Bishop Jethro James, chairman of the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen and one of a number of leading religious figures who are pressing DiVincenzo to act, invoking the memory of civil disorders that rocked the city a half-century ago and resulted in the deaths of 37 persons.

“Those of us who were around 50 years ago fear  it could happen now,” said the bishop, pastor of Paradise Baptist Church.

Students who rely on Essex, he said, are afraid it might close—and choke off access to higher education and a better future.  At the same time, they are angry and frustrated by the direction of national political attitudes toward minority students.

No understanding of what’s at stake

“There is a complete lack of understanding of what’s at stake here.”

He said he and other members of the clergy, calling themselves the “Faith Leaders of Essex County,” met with DiVincenzo and demanded the immediate resignation of the entire trustee board and the resignation of the college’s vice president for finance,  Joyc e Wilson Harley, a former county administrator and DiVincenzo political ally.

The religious leaders and others have charged that Harley, with support of a majority of trustees, has blocked the efforts of its newly elected president, Anthony Munroe. Munroe, who took over in May, is the fourth Essex president in seven years.

The trustees and its favored vice president have to go

Munroe and his supporters say the fractured governance of the college is one of the most serious problems identified by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the accrediting agency. If the college loses its accreditation, it would lose its legal status as a degree-granting college in New Jersey and its students’ access to federal scholarship aid.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a close political ally of GOP Gov. Chris Christie

DiVincenzo told the religious leaders he backed Munroe “100 percent” but was unable to take the steps they demanded, including removing the entire trustee board, firing Harley, and increasing funds to the college.

“We believe he was posturing,” said Bishop James. He pointed out that, nearly 40 years ago, when the college faced a similar crisis, the entire board resigned, clearing the way for a new board that, in a few months, appointed A. Zachary Yamba, who led the college for 30 years, from 1980 until 2010.

Yamba served most of the last year as an interim president after two presidents who succeeded him in office left in a continuing leadership crisis.

Bishop James said the clergy members—and others– want Munroe to have clear authority over the college’s administration, possibly with Yamba as a consultant working temporarily to support him.

“We’re going to stand with President Munroe,” said Bishop James. “And it’s time for the county executive to put his money and his influence where his mouth is.”

He said he had personally tried to persuade Wilson Harley to resign but she refused.

“We told the county executive he has to do whatever he needs to do remove her,” he said, adding the religious believed her remaining in office was an “impediment to progress and the process of leadership.”

Munroe and Wilson Harley clashed directly recently when the new college president tried to appoint a chief fiscal officer for the college but the board refused after Wilson Harley circulated a memorandum criticizing Munroe’s choice.

How does a vice president defy her boss and stay on?

It is highly unusual for a college president to be rebuffed on a major leadership appointment because of a subordinate’s opposition to the choice. The subordinate—Wilson Harley is a vice president of the college—would probably be fired by the president. But, in this case, Wilson Harley had more support on the trustee board than Munroe did.

The faith leaders also included Rev. Ronald Slaughter, St. James AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church; Rev. David Jefferson, Metropolitan Baptist Church; Rev. Lanel Guyton, St. Matthew AME Church, Orange; Rev. Joseph Hooper, St. Luke AME Church; Rev. Linda Ellerbe, Israel Memorial AME Church, and Rev. Cynthia Jackson, Allen AME Church.

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Abigail Shure

    The administrative goings on at Essex County College as reported here are disgraceful. The students deserve at a minimum to attend an accredited institution. Essex County has a reputation of placing political expediency above the responsibility of the community to educate its residents. It is my fervent hope that Essex County College can get its act together in the near future.

  2. Excellencenotpolitics

    The board chair has publicly characterized the refusal to support the President’s candidate for CFO as a required response to an unqualified candidate. “Some members had some concerns about the candidate of choice’s background and experience and lack of credentials”. The specific reasons given include the individual did not have a CPA and that it was inappropriate for the President to change the job description without board approval. The initial job description had the CFO reporting to the VP of Administration & Finance. The President’s preference was to have the CFO report directly to him.

    Only 33% of the other community college CFOs in New Jersey are CPAs. In other words, 67% of NJ Community College CFOs are not Certified Public Accountants. NJ mirrors the national trends. Three national surveys conducted by NACUBO (National Associations of College and University Business Officers) of CFOs in 2010, 2013, and 2016 document the CPA credentials of CFOs throughout nation. Nationally, the majority of CFO are not Certified Public Accountants–63% in 2010; 64% in 2013; and 63% in 2016. Hence, there is NO requirement that the Essex County College CFO be a Certified Public Accountant. This requirement is a stark departure from the norm where this certification is usually preferred but not required.

    Dr. Munroe’s candidate holds a Doctorate Degree of Business Administration (DBA); Masters Degree of Professional Accountancy (MPAcc); Masters of Business Administration (MBA); and a BS in Business Administration. He is more than qualified to be CFO. He would be one of only two CFOs in NJ Community Colleges with a Doctorate Degree, making him more academically qualified than his peers.
    He has extensive experience as a proven finance leader in corporate and higher education; including serving in a senior finance title at Arizona State.

    There are fiscal issues dictate that new CFO operates independently to evaluate and develop procedures that ensure compliance. How can the new CFO operate to address these issues without complete and total autonomy? Central to the non-compliance on several key standards that gave rise to the Middle States’ decision to place the College in a warning status concerns the selection of a CFO in line with best practices – the failure of which can detrimentally impact the College’s efforts to navigate through and out of this Middle States warning period. President Munroe has been working to address this critical issue squarely during his brief tenure. Dr. Munroe has recommended a well-qualified CFO to the Essex County College Board, a position that would report directly to the President in line with best practices to, among other merits, eliminate any confusion over the chain of command of day-to-day authority and elevate the importance of financial reporting and fiscal responsibility. Under what organizational structure does the VP overrule the President on the selection of his senor team? Harley’s comments indicate she thinks she can overrule the president to select the candiate that is being asked to review her conduct and practices. That’s a great deal..she gets to supervise and choose the person who’s being hired to evaluate the ethics and effectiveness of her area. The appointment of a well-qualified CFO is a critical as to the governance of the College and, once again, the vacancy of this position was cited by Middle States as one of the standards for which the College was not in compliance. We must equip Dr. Munroe with the tools he needs to be successful. The Essex County community deserves nothing less.

  3. Excellencenotpolitics

    OUR UNANIMOUS VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
    August 28, 2017
    We, the Faculty of Essex County College, are dedicated and committed to our students and to our institution. We come to you as a seasoned and tenured body averaging 20 years of teaching and learning at Essex County College. We come to you with the institutional memories of the rebellion of the 60’s from which we were born; and the uncertainties of the 70’s when issues of accreditation and political interference first threatened to shut our doors. We stand before you today amidst Middle States warnings, heightened scrutiny by the Department of Education, ongoing fiscal exigency, declining enrollment, and organizational instability. We stand before you today as we stood behind A. Zachary Yamba almost 40 years ago to let it be known that:

    We, the Faculty, have taken a UNANIMOUS vote of CONFIDENCE for DR. ANTHONY E. MUNROE, the eighth President of Essex County College.
    We take this UNANIMOUS vote because we believe the Board of Trustees must hear a full throated and unequivocal pronouncement of faculty support for DR. MUNROE. And by virtue of this vote, we call upon the Board of Trustees to actively support the President, whom they UNANIMOUSLY accepted just three short months ago.

    We call upon the Board of Trustees to remove the shackles that prevent DR. MUNROE from acting as the turnaround agent he was specifically hired to be. And by virtue of this vote, we call upon the Board to take the necessary steps to allow this President to unequivocally lead this institution without undo interference or influence.

    We call upon the Board of Trustees to mirror the commitment of the faculty, administration, and staff who are determined to continue to support and serve our students during these trying times. And by virtue of this vote, we call upon the Board of Trustees to persevere in the face of political pressure; to stand in solidarity with this President as he strengthens this college; so that we may all continue to do the work that transforms and uplifts our students, their families, and our communities.

    This UNANIMOUS vote of CONFIDENCE is a vote for the continued success of an institution that changes lives, builds futures, and provides access and success for thousands.

    This UNANIMOUS vote of CONFIDENCE is a vote for the future of our students and for the residents and citizens of Essex County.

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