MassBay president sets record straight
It was like any other Wednesday night for Massachusetts Bay Community College President Carole Berotte Joseph. She was up late, as she is most weeknights, working on college matters. But on this particular night, she anxiously awaited an investigative report airing on a local television station.
The report blasted Joseph for spending more than $100,000 on a weeklong inauguration celebration at a time when the school has a scarce budget, outdated equipment and overdue facility improvements to the Wellesley, Framingham and Ashland campuses.
During the segment, Joseph appeared angry and her tone was firm and passionate. She defended her spending, saying her celebration was a creative way to market the school, with the focus on Haitian culture and issues, and celebrating the fact that she was the first Haitian American to head a U.S. college.
“I was surprised,” said Joseph, explaining her initial reaction to the report. “After I saw the segment, my husband gave me a hug and encouraged me to go to bed.”
She went to work the following day and, with the exception of a few anonymous telephone calls that questioned her integrity, she pressed forward with her mission to make the small community college one of the best in the nation.
Although frustrated and disappointed with the broadcast, Joseph is not sulking or immersed in self-pity.
“I realized who my enemies are and I found out that I have many more friends, neighbors, faculty and staff who support me,” said Joseph. “It must mean I’m doing a good job.”
Since moving to Massachusetts from New York, she has been forced to balance her responsibility to improve the school while remaining sensitive to the needs of her colleagues, some of whom have been resistant to change. Her predecessor, interim president Andrew Scibelli, served during the period between prior college president Lindsay Norman’s retirement in October 2004 and Joseph’s assumption of duties in March 2005. Because Scibelli’s term was too short to make any significant changes, Joseph now finds herself having to make up for lost time.
Joseph says that prior to her selection as president, a number of the institution’s infrastructure needs were ignored and over time have grown worse. But those changes, Joseph quickly pointed out, don’t happen overnight.
Reporter Joe Bergantino came to the MassBay Wellesley campus last month and interviewed Joseph, several students and staff.
“When we talked, I was very clear and specific about how the money was used and where it came from. It was no secret,” said Joseph. “The truth was distorted and I don’t think viewers got the right message.”
WBZ-TV defends their investigative methods. WBZ spokeswoman Ro Dooley Webster explained to the Banner that Joe Bergantino and the I-Team are about holding public servants and officials accountable.
“Therefore it makes sense that the team will look to leads,” she said. “They received information about spending at MassBay and pursued the story as any good investigator would. We won’t get into the specifics of our investigative methods, but we are completely confident that the facts of the story speak for themselves.”
The board agreed to grant Joseph $100,000 for the inaugural week and she spent $91,000 of it on food, travel expenses for guests and other event costs. The WBZ-TV report stated that she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, $126,000, which specifically came from tuition and other higher education dollars.
Joseph says that wasn’t the case. She didn’t use money she wasn’t supposed to use, but money granted and approved by the MassBay Board of Trustees.
“The money came from local funds, like through commissions from the vending machines and the bookstore. Not the state,” said Joseph.
Joseph feels that the money was put to good use and if she had to do it again, she would.
Eileen O’Connor, spokeswoman for the Board of Higher Education, told the Banner that there are no specific guidelines that suggest how much or how little a community college should spend on an inaugural event. The decision is under the sole discretion of the local boards and trustees.
“Based on the information we have received, student fees were not used [at MassBay],” said O’Connor. “If that were the case, that would be a situation the Board of Higher Education would want to take a better look at.”
Joseph is now working with others to develop a fact sheet, which she plans to distribute throughout the campus in the near future to clear up any misconceptions.
“For me, this is an experience I hope to never go through again,” said Joseph. “I think the worst is over and that it will only get better from here.”