Will Essex County College close?

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Essex County College, an institution that has overcome daunting problems in the past, now faces the worst crisis in its 50-year history—the possible loss of its accreditation and, with it, its ability to operate as a public, degree-granting institution.

 

The two-year community college faced an accreditation crisis once before—more than 30 years ago—but, this time, the school cannot rely on intervention by state officials as it did in the late 1970s to end corruption and political interference. State supervision of public higher education was ended to save money under former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman in 1994.

“Sad and disappointing”

“What’s going on now is just sad and disappointing,’’ says A. Zachary Yamba, who served more than 30 years as the school’s president. “It puts the institution at risk of closing.”

Another former leader of the college, Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, its former trustee chairman, declared “what’s happening at the college is absolutely vulgar,” and added he believed only dramatic action by the regional accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, could save it.

 

Gov. Chris Christie, former Essex President Gale Gibson (who didn’t last long), and Joseph DiVincenzo, the county executive.

“The college is in great jeopardy of closing,” says Bishop Jackson, who served 13 years on the trustee board and now serves as presiding bishop over more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal (AME)  churches in Georgia.

 

Yamba suggested that, if problems at the college could not be solved internally and the college loses its accreditation, surrounding public institutions in Newark–like Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)–could provide an “umbrella” administration until full independence could be restored.

“While it’s rare to close a public college, some have had their governance changed–perhaps become part of other institutions,” he said.

In 1979, the threat by Middle States to strip the college of its accreditation led to the state intervention that removed all trustee board members and opened the way for Yamba’s appointment. Yamba, who had been a faculty member and administrator at the college, acted quickly and effectively after his elevation to president to save the school’s accreditation—and its state license to award degrees.

After Yamba, chaos–and three presidents in seven years

A. Zachary Yamba

Yamba retired in 2010 but returned as an interim president for a year when the college slipped into chaos. It has had three presidents in seven years and faces a budget shortfall. Its ability to award financial aid has been threatened by the federal government.

 

Middle States has demanded a response to its earlier findings that Essex had failed to meet accreditation standards. The agency acted “to warn the institution that its accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with” standards governing resources, leadership, governance, and student admission and retention.

 

That response is due Friday and the accrediting agency will then return for another inspection visit.

 

Although the list of problems plaguing the college is long, Yamba says he believes the failure of the trustees to support the efforts of its most recently appointed president,  Anthony Munroe, to meet Middle States’ demands is the greatest threat to the college’s future.  For example, the trustees recently rejected Munroe’s efforts to hire a chief financial officer for the college—a key demand of Middle States.

With no state supervision, politics rules

Both Yamba and Jackson—along with other religious and political leaders—blame what they call “political interference” for the chaos at the college. The problems apparently center around the close relationship of trustees and at least one top administrator to Joseph DiVincenzo, the Essex County Executive and, despite his Democratic Party affiliation, a close ally of Republican Gov.  Chris Christie. DiVincenzo appoints all but two of the trustees—the governor appoints two.

“They cover for each other,” Bishop Jackson said of the close alliance between Christie and DiVincenzo. “The state won’t help.”

 

A key problem is the role played by DiVincenzo ally Joyce Harley, who once served as county administrator and now is a financial officer at Essex. Harley, for example, admitted she played a role in blocking the  effort by Munroe to hire a chief financial officer.  In a memorandum to trustees, she contended Munroe failed to follow procedure in the appointment—an odd action by an administrator who ranks well below the president.

 

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson

The threat to the future of Essex has led other groups and political figures to speak out. A letter from a group called “Faith Leaders of Essex County” criticized the move to block Munroe’s administrative appointments as “political interference.”  The religious leaders accused county political leaders of “political shenanigans” that were “designed to destabilize this President.”

 

The members of the clergy have scheduled a rally and press conference Thursday at 3:30 pm outside the college to demand a “forensic audit” of the school and a “cessation of political influence and interference.”

 

Meanwhile, the president of the county’s freeholder board, Britnee Timberlake, also citing the effort to frustrate Munroe’s appointment, warned the trustee board that the failure of Essex to maintain its accreditation would be a “travesty and social abomination.”

 

Timberlake was careful to point out the elected freeholder board “does not govern the college,” but she said the county legislators “have received numerous complaints, letters of concern, and grievances from citizens.” She gave the trustees until Tuesday to answer the issues raised by the letters from the religious figures.

 

 

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Jerome Blackwell

    To be honest the politicians should of been stopped getting involved in educational affairs and worried more about public relations. Sometimes ppl don’t think they’re stepping on the next man’s shoes but they are. Essex county college has been had a problem. The school ethical standards need to change internally within before externally. Maybe find some trustees that are actually going to take the job serious. People tend to forget this is a “Two year College” nothing more and nothing less. You have to get politics out of the students way of getting a proper educational system. The platform may need to work hand in hand with the other local colleges such as NJIT, Rutgers university for a short while but if that’s what it takes to get the system back to where it should be then go ahead and do it.

  2. Patricia R Smith

    My school is great the professors push the student’s and are really here for us they offer a lot of scholarships so that we won’t have any worries I’m greatful for it all .
    -current Essex county student-

  3. 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 ask 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Colette Hastings

    Essex County College is a community resource that the community benefits from. It is appalling that the very resource that is put in place to uplift the poor, It is now a tool being used to cripple and oppressed them. Essex County elevate. we the Citizens and residents do not want to see the school close because of conspiracy. The school means so much to me than just a school. Therefore, I opposed the threat that the school is now facing. We are responsible for the prosperity of our children, but if the resources that we benefited from is not there for those who depend on it to accomplish goals and set standards are not there for them when in need, then we have set the mode to weekend our principles, core values, and our strengths. In the end, Essex County College is needed in our community. It is the crutch for the weary, the poor, the strugglings, and the last hope for many. People in the community need to know that their future matters. They are not greedy, they are the needy.

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