Backlash After Essex County College Trustees Suspend President, General Counsel

By Michael Hill

Essex County College students and their supporters called for the federal government and New Jersey’s education commissioner to investigate the college’s Board of Trustees.

“Transparency of government is the principle,” said Newark Anti-Violence Coalition Media Advocate Zayid Muhammad.

Debra Salters is the student representative on the board. She says it was a bad move on Good Friday for the trustees to suspend college President Gale Gibson — who was on vacation out of the country — and General Counsel Rashidah Hasan.

“We need to know what the charges are,” Salters said.

A shroud of secrecy surrounds the suspensions but reported the board took action against both amid an investigation of misuse of college resources.

Two days ago, a Seattle newspaper reported Gibson was one of three finalists for chancellor of Seattle Colleges and that her suspension would be weighed as a factor in making a decision.

Students credit Gibson for academic advancements at Essex County College. Gibson appeared on NJTV News two years ago touting adding programs: “We’ve recently received over $4 million in grants to create new certificate programs in cyber security,” she said.

“The college has a record graduation rate. The college has an increased retention rate,” Salters said.

While students demanded answers, they offered speculation saying that politics or a power grab was underway.

Protestors accused County Executive Joe DiVincenzo of meddling in the affairs of the college’s Board of Trustees, stacking the board with appointees, and stabbing Gibson in the back.

“Students also reject any interference from the county in the form of its executive Joe DiVincenzo,” Salters said.

DiVincenzo is backing the college’s Board of Trustees, saying in a statement, “At this time, the board believes that suspending Dr. Gibson from her duties as president is in the best interest of the students and will help protect the integrity of the institution. It is the board’s decision, which I support and respect.”

A late statement from the college doesn’t say why the board suspended Gibson and Hasan. But Gibson’s attorney Alan Zegas says her suspension is politically motivated and came after she had voiced concerns about the use of college resources. He says the college did know about her application in Seattle and you would think it would not sully her name. Zegas says at the end of the day, Essex County College will be held accountable for its actions.