NMC President Suspended: Board requests OAG to investigate

January 12, 2010

The Northern Marianas College seems to have one problem after another. The Board of Regents has finally taken action by suspending the college president, Dr. Carmen Fernandez. The vote was 4-2 with board chair Janet King, vice chair Maria Paz Younis, Andrew Orsini, and Frank Rabauliman voting to suspend the president, and Elaine Hocog Orilla and Malua Peter voting against the motion. Fernandez will "have no access to documents at the college while she is under suspension" according to the Marianas Variety.

The Board of Regents has also requested that the Office of the Attorney General conduct an investigation. One of the focuses of the investigation concerns student grades.

The Saipan Tribune reports:

The suspension was effective immediately and will last until the results of the two investigations are disclosed to the board.

Board chair Janet Han King told Saipan Tribune that both the Office of the Attorney General and a fact-finding committee formed by the board are separately investigating Fernandez.

Saipan Tribune learned that the OAG's probe is related to issues about the grades of students while the board's investigation focuses on personnel matters and other “issues.” The board did not elaborate.

Lorraine Cabrera, the college's Adult Basic Education director who has been with the institution for 15 years, was named as the interim NMC president.

Yesterday's meeting had only one agenda: personnel matter. It was supposed to start at 10am but was delayed for an hour.

Regent Charles Cepeda was unable to attend, reportedly due to a scheduling conflict. Rota regent Elaine Hocog-Orilla participated via video teleconference.

According to the Marianas Variety:

Senate Faculty President Larry Lee said the board made a good decision.

“Things are not going well and it’s time for the board to discover some of the facts and what’s going on. The only way they can do that and get all the evidence is to have this president out of the college,” he said.

His office, he said, is ready to provide all necessary information to the fact-finding team.

The controversial college president, a former Guam senator, terminated a large number of experienced faculty members including Sam McPhetres, a much respected and esteemed teacher of 20 years. Other faculty members have resigned. Additionally, some have questioned the hiring of "unqualified" staff said to be political hires.

NMC Faculty Senate president Larry Lee said that since Fernandez was hired two years ago "the college has had three academic deans, three student services deans, three chief financial officers, three directors of institutional effectiveness, three admission directors, two librarian directors, three bookstore managers, and several non-renewed department chairs." The recent terminations have been alleged to have been politically motivated.

There were allegations that the college's midterm report to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges contained inaccuracies and false statements. It was prepared by a hired consultant after WASC threatened that accreditation would be pulled from the struggling college if it didn't make up for deficiencies.

Instructors talked about a climate of fear at the college. From a letter to the editor from former instructor Lynda Rowe:
I saw a pervasive climate of fear spread through the faculty as President Fernandez used her power in retaliation against any who dared disagree with her. Yes, faculty and staff were afraid of losing their jobs. As Faculty Senate Rep. I heard many such complaints, but always with the caveat of anonymity. Fear was pervasive, and had a stifling effect on educational innovation, creativity and overall excellence. I made the wrenching decision to leave last August, as I could no longer stand to watch the College I had come to love being destroyed by President Fernandez. I gave up a year of "double dipping" and financial security because I was sick at heart. I miss my CJ students terribly and feel guilty about leaving them, but I really could not stay and work under that president.
On Monday there was a threatening email circulated on campus that stated if the Board of Regents meeting wasn't cancelled there would be "a bombing of an NMC classroom before the Chinese New Year." Local and federal law enforcement officials were called to investigate.

From yesterday's Tribune:
NMC president Dr. Carmen Fernandez later allowed college staff and students to go home yesterday.

In a statement sent to Saipan Tribune at 6pm, Fernandez announced that the campus will reopen and normal operations will resume today, Jan. 12. She indicated that class registration for the Spring 2010 semester will continue as scheduled, along with the scheduled events and activities on campus.

When contacted yesterday, NMC board chair Janet King confirmed receiving the e-mail threat. However, she held firm to her decision to hold the special meeting today, saying the board will not negotiate with or be intimidated by the e-mail threat.

“The Board of Regents will still hold its special meeting [today]. Each member knows that if they are concerned for their safety, they may call in. Speaking for myself personally, I will attend in person. I have advised the FBI and DPS and other agencies of this, and I’m cooperating with them,” she said.
While the board meeting took place yesterday fifteen policemen were on campus with three assigned to standing guard at the board conference room according to the Saipan Tribune.

Meanwhile attorneys are said to be negotiating a meeting between Fernandez and McPhetres to discuss his termination. You can read more about his termination at this post, Political Firing?


captain said...

Interesting the one that tried to keep Janet from being voted as the regents head was the one that was absent and did not take part.
The one from Rota had a good excuse and participated via the electronic link.
A bomb threat is a very serious Fed charge.
If this was sent by email, this is more stupid. It is also easy to tell what on campus computer and printer was used.(if any) It would be interesting to see the outcome on this one, especially if Cepeda is involved in anything on campus and possibly the bomb threat.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is being investigated by the OAG? Is it the bomb threat or corruption at NMC? Does the OAG get involved in grades changes?

Saipan Writer said...

Good question, Anon. And exactly what I've been wondering.

I would think the Feds would investigate the bomb threat as it involves communications/commerce.

The grade-changing /lack of academic integrity seems like more something for the accreditation team than criminal/governmental investigation.

And I wonder if there is anything else?