Education

EGCC Fires Bruce, Redirects Leadership, Purchasing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –  In the wake of an investigation into purchasing practices by one of its vice presidents, Eastern Gateway Community College is looking at other potential inappropriate spending by staff and has cut the number of procurement cards it has available for personnel to make emergency purchases.

The investigation into Jim Miller, the community college’s vice president and chief of staff, was one of two personnel matters addressed by Eastern Gateway officials following Wednesday’s meeting of its board of trustees. 

The other issue was the board’s termination of college president Dr. Jimmie Bruce. In its resolution firing Bruce, the board also named Michael Geoghegan, Eastern Gateway’s chief financial officer, as interim president as a search is conducted to fill the position.  

James M. Gasior, president and CEO of Cortland Banks and chairman of Eastern Gateway’s board of trustees, told the board Wednesday it was clear that Bruce “has not followed best management practices” and accused him of “dereliction of duty.” 

Eastern Gateway announced last week that both Bruce and Miller had been placed on administrative leave. Gasior said Wednesday the actions were unrelated to each other. 

“These were two incidents that just came together at the same point,” he said. 

While Bruce was fired Wednesday, Miller remains on administrative leave “subject to the outcome of an internal review” that was performed by staff and communicated to Eastern Gateway’s external auditors, he said. The review disclosed “some questionable expense items” that were charged to a procurement card issued to Miller. 

University officials did not disclose what items Miller might have improperly purchased or a total amount, as the review is ongoing. Further information would be provided later, Gasior said. 

“There was a pattern of irregularities. That’s what we found and brought to the attention of the auditors,” Geoghegan said. 

Eastern Gateway is also looking at other potential irregular purchases made on the procurement cards, and closed all but one of the 22 cards it had for emergency purchases. 

“We were sort of looking at that anyway,” Geoghegan said. 

Bruce’s dismissal resulted from what Gasior characterized as “a lack of leadership” since August, including not being “fully engaged’ with members of his cabinet, members of the board or Eastern Gateway’s business partners. Bruce failed to respond to requests for information from cabinet members and missed cabinet meetings, he said.  

“One of the things that the trustees have been talking about for a period of time is a need to fill key positions,” Gasior continued. Eastern Gateway has lacked a provost for some time and had other vacancies that went unfilled. The board also sought direction in areas such as public relations and marketing.  

In addition, Bruce made changes to areas such as workforce development and disability services without giving consideration to the cabinet’s thoughts on where he sought to take those programs.

“It wasn’t just that he wasn’t contacting the cabinet members. It was that there was a dissatisfaction with the direction that he was taking,” Gasior said. 

Bruce was dismissed following discussions with individual cabinet members and the cabinet as a whole. 

“Frankly, it was fairly clear to the trustees that the confidence of the cabinet just wasn’t there,” Gasior said.

The board will conduct a national search for a new president, which will include internal candidates as well. Asked whether he was interested in being president of Eastern Gateway beyond the interim appointment, Geoghegan responded that he was “just taking it day to day right now.”  

There have been no discussions about a time frame for the search or when the community college wants to have a new president in place, Gasior said. 

In the nearly four years that Bruce served as president of Eastern Gateway, enrollment grew at an extremely rapid rate. In spring 2019, EGCC counted 5,500 Ohio residents as students and another 14,000 out-of-state students, mostly taking courses online.

The huge increase in out-of-state, online students brought complaints that Eastern Gateway was unfairly taking advantage of a pool of state funds set aside for community colleges.

The issue was first reported last summer by a trade journal, which noted that online enrollment had quadrupled under Bruce, and attributed the huge gains to a “free college program that Eastern Gateway created for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.”

State officials took notice and summoned Bruce to testify before an Ohio Senate Finance Committee, where he stated that all of the $1 million EGCC received from the “State Share of Instruction” formula was used to expand programs and facilities at its campuses in Youngstown and Steubenville.

Still, the Ohio Legislature revised the funding formula and EGCC agreed to a transition period.

Gasior did not cite the out-of-state online students issue among factors in the decision to terminate Bruce.

Eastern Gateway, formerly Jefferson Community College, is based in Steubenville.

The college three buildings in downtown Youngstown: Thomas Humphries Hall, 101 E. Federal St.; its student services center, 139 E. Boardman St.; and the new health and workforce education center, 101 E. Boardman St.

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Jan. 15, 2020: Breaking: Eastern Gateway Community College Terminates Bruce

Pictured: Eastern Gateway board president James M. Gasior said former president Dr. Jimmie Bruce has shown “a lack of leadership” since August.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.