Essex County College probe, fallout shrouded in mystery

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The situation at Essex County College continues to intensify amid the recent suspension of college President Gale Gibson. Gibson received a letter in late March advising her that she had been suspended while the ECC Board of Trustees looked into her alleged misuse of school resources. Gibson continues to collect her yearly salary of $295,000 during her suspension.

Rashida Hassan, the college’s general counsel and vice president for human resources, was also suspended as part of the financial probe.

As of press time, Gibson, Hassan and their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

On Friday, April 1, several students protested Gibson’s suspension, accusing the college of a lack of transparency and of shrouding the issue in secrecy.

Indeed, no one seems to be saying much. According to Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, the issue has been kept quiet. “I was at a Freeholders meeting the other night and nothing was mentioned about it whatsoever,” Sebold said in a recent interview. “I knew she was let go. I knew they were investigating her,” she said of Gibson.

Gibson was chosen in 2013 to replace former president Edythe Abdullah who, according to sources, was pressured to step down from the job.

In a statement issued March 31 from the college’s board of trustees, no mention was made of any details surrounding the financial probe currently under way at the school.

“President Gale E. Gibson and General Counsel Rashida Hassan have been suspended from their positions at Essex County College,” said the statement. “The Executive Committee has appointed President Emeritus Dr. A. Zachary Yamba to serve as acting president during the term of Dr. Gibson’s suspension. Dr. Yamba has a deep history at Essex and within the Newark community, serving as president of the college for three decades, until his retirement in 2010. Dr. Yamba will provide the necessary leadership to ensure the college continues to operate at the highest levels during this time. For nearly half a century Essex County College has been educating and enriching the lives of county residents, and we will continue to equip our students with the skills they need to achieve academic excellence and lifelong success.”

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., who had supported former county administrator Joyce Harley for the president position at the college, said he supports the decision of the board. “At this time, the board believes that suspending Dr. Gibson from her duties as president is in the best interests of the students and will help protect the integrity of the institution,” DiVincenzo said recently via email. “It is the board’s decision, which I support and respect.”

Sebold seemed surprised by the developments. “I know her,” she said of Gibson. “From what I’ve seen she’s been doing a good job. When the board decided to let her go, I think everyone was surprised. I don’t think anyone knows anything, quite truthfully.”

Yamba, who will serve as acting president until June 30, released a statement saying, “My role as acting president is to ensure that the college is functioning and is stable. In the meantime, the board of trustees will continue its investigation and will announce its decision when completed.

“Today (April 4) is my first day and I am in debriefing meetings. I’m just trying to keep the morale of the institution at a high level so students continue to receive the education they deserve.”