Clovis Community College has narrowed its search for a new president to three candidates, but one is embroiled in a recent controversy involving being fired from her previous job.
And the few dozen Clovis Community staff, students and community members who attended a candidate forum Wednesday were not given accurate information about her as they were asked to comment on each potential president.
On paper, Gale Gibson Gayle appears to be a strong candidate to replace Deborah J. Ikeda, who will retire this month after 35 years in the State Center district.
An information packet given to the public and bearing the official Clovis Community and State Center letterheads notes Gayle is currently the president of Essex County College, a community college in Newark, N.J. Gayle’s résumé notes that she had led the college since March 2013 and improved graduation rates, secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for her college and earned new accreditations.
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During the Clovis Community campus forum, Gayle expanded on those qualifications for over an hour as she fielded questions from Edward Valeau, the co-founder of the Education Leadership Search (ELS) Group, a Northern California firm that specializes in finding candidates for higher-education leadership vacancies. The district hired ELS several months ago to lead its search for a new president.
The only problem?
Gayle is not the president of Essex County College – at least not anymore. She was fired April 20 after a three-week suspension.
The Essex Community College Board of Trustees fired Gayle at a meeting on April 20.
As reported by nj.com – the website for a handful of New Jersey newspapers – the district was investigating allegations that Gayle bullied her staff to keep them from speaking to any school board members. She also was accused of directing her staff to access the email addresses and hard drives of fellow staff members she suspected had reported her to the board, as well as giving nonemployees – including her fiancé – district email accounts.
Gayle told nj.com that she was being retaliated against because she was investigating reports of a campus print shop performing hundreds of dollars in unpaid services.
Video: Essex County College students protest suspension of president
The Bee reached out to Essex for comment, but the college could not provide one.
On Wednesday, Valeau asked Gayle to discuss her recent suspension, but he did not mention her dismissal.
She did not answer directly, saying instead that it was important for a school board and its college president to “be on the same page.” She said the Essex board did not have ample information and did not hear all sides of the issue. She did not mention her dismissal.
Valeau did not press Gayle for more information, but moved on to the next question.
During the forum, Gayle always referred to her presidency in the present tense. She said that she was seeking to leave the college because she wanted to move up in the education world, and her family is looking to relocate to the West Coast.
At the end of the forum, Gayle was given five minutes to make a case for herself as the new president. The public was not invited to ask her questions, though comment forms on each candidate were distributed to each of the 50 or so attendees. They were asked to list each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
Gayle confirmed to The Bee after the forum that she had been fired from Essex. She would not discuss the allegations, saying only that a college president has an important responsibility to address “financial improprieties.”
When asked if she thought it was important to tell the community of her dismissal, she responded: “At this point in time, my legal counsel has advised me to share as little as possible about that. I answered the question as it was asked.”
Gayle’s attorney, Alan Zegas, said his client was not able to give any more information because the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating her claims at Essex County College. A story on nj.com noted that a federal subpoena had been issued for “shredded materials” at the college.
$27,500The fee paid to a recruiting company to find the candidates for Clovis Community College’s presidency
Paul Parnell, who took over as chancellor of the State Center Community College District in June, was unaware of Gayle’s dismissal.
“We leave that to our consultants,” he said. “(The allegations) are disturbing, but I can’t comment in the middle of the hiring process.”
Parnell said a committee at the Clovis college worked with ELS to review the applicants. The committee was made up of faculty, administrators and community members. It interviewed several candidates to narrow the field to three.
The district paid ELS a $27,500 fee plus incidentals to conduct the search, Parnell said.
Valeau said he was aware Gayle had been suspended but not that she had been fired. He said his company’s vetting process was not done, but a full report on each candidate will be submitted soon. He stressed that the committee – not ELS – selected the three finalists.
Parnell will interview the top three candidates this week. They are: Gayle; Lori A. Bennett, the vice president of student services at Moorpark College in Moorpark; and Meridith Randall, the vice president for instruction at Shasta College in Redding. He said he knew which candidate he would probably recommend, but he declined to say who it was.
The State Center Community College board of trustees will vote whether to ratify Parnell’s choice once he makes it.
Board President Richard Caglia issued the following statement:
“I appreciate The Fresno Bee uncovering this information. The board and the chancellor will be working with our consulting firm to do our due diligence to ensure that we select the proper candidate who is the right fit for our community.”
The district is also searching for a permanent president at Fresno City College, having just named its second interim president since President Tony Cantu died unexpectedly in April 2015. It is not using ELS for that search, Parnell said.
Parnell had no timetable for when a candidate would be selected for either vacancy.