Essex County College, graduation


NEWARK - As cheering family and friends looked on, nearly 1,200 Essex County College students received their hard earned Associate degrees as the College celebrated its 50th annual Commencement Friday, May 31. The ceremony was held in the Prudential Center, Newark.

Fighting back tears, Class Valedictorian and Criminal Justice major Pyetra Camargo began her address, “I want to start off by thanking my mom (Nordia). My mother is a courageous woman who crossed borders so that I could cross this stage today. I also want to thank my sister (Paolla) - because I don’t think I thank her enough - for sacrificing so much for me.” Pyetra is from Brazil who has transferred to Saint Peter’s University where she is majoring in Political Science.

ECC President Emeritus A. Zachary Yamba, who was part of the College’s original faculty in 1968, saluted the graduates as the “Golden Class. You will always have a special place in Essex County College’s history.” Dr. Yamba recalled the early days of the College, during a time when the Civil Rights movement was sweeping Newark and the nation. “ECC was one of the new beginnings of Newark as the city came out of the ashes.”

Dr. Yamba also paid tribute to the faculty members who have been serving students at ECC for 50 years. They are Professors A. Patricia Bartinique, Gerald Freedman, James Johnson, Gerald Savage, Robert Spellman, Ladylease White and Ned Wilson, who also served as Grand Marshal.

ECC President Dr. Anthony E. Munroe, who presided over the ceremony, presented an Honorary Associate in Arts degree to Dr. Irene Cooper-Basch for her philanthropy, including her leadership as a champion for education. She is executive officer and secretary of the board of the charitable organization the Victoria Foundation. Noting many in the class are the first in their families to attend college, she said, “You are blazing a trail for your loved ones to follow.”

Dr. Cooper-Basch then introduced opera singer Kevin Maynor, with deep Newark roots, who performed the spiritual. There is a Balm in Gilead to the approving audience.

In his message to the graduates, Dr. Munroe said, “Continue to ask questions. You don’t have to know everything; just know what resources or help you need in order to get to where you want to go.”

Chair of the Board of Trustees Thomas McDermott also noted the significance of the Golden Anniversary class. “This is an historic class. Be proud of your success and move confidently into the next phase of your lives.”

Sena Dzirasa, a Mathematics major who served as class Salutatorian, is transferring to Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where she will major in Mathematics and minor in Economics.

Class of 2019 Assistant Marshals, who had the honor of leading the processional into the arena, are Zabida Isahawk, Business Administration and Emmanuella Quain, Paralegal Studies.

The youngest graduate of the Class of 2019 was Damilola Ademoye, 17, a Liberal Arts major. Luis Felix, a Paralegal Studies major, received a sustained round of applause as the oldest graduate at 73.

As she concluded her address to her classmates, Pyetra said, “For many of us, Essex County College was the only institution that welcomed us with open arms - and that is something to be proud of. Be proud to have graduated today from an institution that believes that education is not a privilege reserved for a select few but a human right to be guaranteed to all.

“To the Class of 2019 - my wish for you all is that you leave here today and become the change that is desperately needed in this world. Do not let borders, or any other social construct, stop you from realizing your wildest dreams.”


By Lev D. Zilbermints

Essex County College (ECC) enrollment has been declining for the past five years straight, records show. According to information obtained under an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, ECC had 6,820 students in Fall 2018. This is 2,177 less than Fall 2017, when 8,997 students were registered at ECC.

It should be noted that according to the Records Custodian of ECC, 8,262 students attended school in Fall 2018. However, according to the Fall 2017 Essex Fast Facts sheet, 8,997 students were enrolled. The discrepancy between the two numbers is 735 students.

Local Talk repeatedly tried to get an explanation from Maureen Behr, the Records Custodian. As of press time, there was no explanation for the discrepancy between two numbers.

Student enrollment peaked in 2010, the year long-time ECC president A. Zachary Yamba left office. In 2010, there were 13,424 students registered at Essex County College. After Edythe Abdullah became president, enrollment fluctuated for the next three years. In 2011, 12,532 students attended ECC; in 2012, 11,979 attended; in 2013, 12,172 students attended.

Student enrollment took a drastic decline under the next couple of presidents in 2013 - 2018. Not even the brief return of the widely respected A. Zachary Yamba could arrest the enrollment decline. In 2014, 11,468 students were enrolled; in 2015, 10,954 students were enrolled; in 2016, the number went down to 9,596.

The return of A. Zachary Yamba as Interim President in 2016-2017 saw the enrollment numbers dip further. In 2017, 8,997 students were enrolled. This number was only slightly higher than that of 1996, when 8,838 students were enrolled.

By September 2018, enrollment dropped to levels not seen since the early 1990s. Only 6,820 students were enrolled at ECC.

According to the October 17, 2017 Board of Trustees agenda, ECC hired Sanjay Ramdath as Executive Director of Enrollment Management with a salary of $130,000. Mr. Ramdath has been tasked with increasing enrollment at ECC.

Tuition at Essex County College is currently $126.50 per credit hour. Thus, a student taking 12 credits, or a full load, would be paying $1,518 for his courses. To this must be added various fees for registration, lab work, parking, student activities, and books. The extra fees can easily push the actual amount of money paid to about $2,100 for one semester. 

Why ECC Is Losing Students While Rutgers And NJIT Have Stable Enrollment 

According to New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) enrollment data, there were 11,466 students enrolled in 2017, the last year for which data is available. Of these, 8,483 were undergraduates and 2,963 were graduate students. Enrollment at NJIT had increased every year since 2008, the last year for which data is available. In 2008, there were 8,398 students at NJIT; in 2009, 8,840; in 2010, 8,934; in 2011, 9,558; in 2012, 9,944; in 2013, 10,130; in 2014, 10,646; in 2015, 11,325; in 2016, 11,317.

Data shows that between 2008-2014, Essex County College had a higher enrollment than NJIT. Beginning 2015, however, ECC enrollment decreased compared to that of NJIT. There were 10,954 students at ECC in 2015, compared to 11,325 at NJIT. The gap increased as the years went by. In 2016, there were 9,596 students at ECC compared to 11,317 at NJIT. By 2017, the gap increased, with 8,997 students at ECC compared to 11,446 at NJIT.

Tuition at NJIT is higher than at ECC, with a total of $725 per credit. Thus, an undergraduate student taking at least 12 credits would spend at least $8,700 on tuition. When dorm rent, textbooks, and other expenses are factored in, a student would have to shell out in the neighborhood of $12,000 for studies at NJIT. Those out of state would have to pay double tuition.

Graduate students at NJIT pay a much higher fee than their undergraduate fellow students. A graduate student at NJIT pays a total of $1,286 per credit. Those taking 12-19 credits must pay at least $11,687 in tuition and fees. For those graduate students out of state, tuition starts at $1768 per credit. Those taking a full credit load of 12-19 credits have to pay $16,551 to study at NJIT.

Rutgers-Newark has 12,768 students according to Rutgers data. Tuition varies according to which school a student attends. Arts and Sciences, Public Affairs and Administration, School of Criminal Justice, University College all charge $5,943 for 12 credits. Business School charges $6,122 for 12 credits. The School of Nursing charges $6,956 for 12 credits. Out of state residents pay double tuition. Most Rutgers-Newark schools charge a little over $14,000. Only the School of Nursing charges out-of-state residents $12,135.

Both Rutgers and NJIT have dormitories, something that ECC lacks. Moreover, Rutgers and NJIT are four-year schools, whereas ECC is a two-year school. The two-year difference allows R-N and NJIT to retain students longer than ECC. Also, neither R-N nor NJIT had to go through the chaos that Essex County College did after the retirement of President Yamba.


History has shown that when the economy is good, enrollment decreases. The current situation could be compared to the 1980s, when the economy was also good. In the early 1980s, ECC had no yearbook, a weak student government, no student newspaper. Many early 1980s alumni said that there was a lot of student apathy on campus back then. By comparison, in 2018, the economy is good, there is no yearbook, the student newspaper comes out infrequently.

During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, enrollment at Essex County College increased from 10,995 in 2007 to 12,319 in 2008 to 13,314 in 2009. Thus, history shows that when the economy is bad, student enrollment increases. 

Chaos After Dr. A. Zachary Yamba’s Departure

After the retirement of Dr. A. Zachary Yamba in 2010, the school went through three presidents in seven years. The presidency of Dr. Edythe Abdullah, from 2010-2013, saw the enrollment numbers dip slightly, from 13,424 in 2010 to 12,532 in 2011 to 11,979 in 2012 and 12,172 in 2013. During this time, ECC did not raise tuition for five years.

In 2014, the Student Support Services Program folded. It had been in existence since 1972 and helped thousands of students excel academically. SSS, as it was known, was funded by a grant from the federal government which was renewed every five years. In 2014, the school failed to receive the grant money from the federal government.

Another program that was responsible for helping students was the Urban Issues Institute. Headed by Margaret Stevens, UII was responsible for working with high school students, keeping people abreast of social problems, organizing community events, and helping students get around ECC. Urban Issues Institute was effectively closed down in 2014/2015 because of budget cuts.

The years 2015-2017 saw protests against tuition increase, the firing of then-ECC President Gale Gibson and then-General Counsel Rasheedah Hasan, endangerment of the school accreditation, the brief return of Dr. Yamba, and the hiring of new president Anthony Munroe. The Public Safety Academy in Cedar Grove was sold back to Essex County, but not before making news all over local newspapers.


By Lev D. Zilbermints and Dhiren Shah

By way of an OPRA request, the numbers provided by Essex County College for their Police Training Academy budget 2017-2018 do not match up.

Following two Open Public Records Act requests, Essex County College (ECC) provided “Local Talk” with what the school said were line-by-line spending for the ECC Police Training Academy in Cedar Grove. The OPRA requests were made in order to prove or disprove the ECC claim that the Police Training Academy was losing money.

“Local Talk” reported in its May 24 issue that the Police Training Academy Director, Rocco Miscia, said that the revenue was $502,000. This included the firing range revenue, Law Enforcement Training Employee funds, Alternate Route application fees and tuition. Miscia said at the time, “This figure does not include the funding that the college receives from the state, which approximately is $50 per credit hour.”

According to remarks made by then-Associate Director Paul Costello at the February 27 Board of Trustees meeting, the Academy had 323 recruits at that point. Each one took 21 credits, for a total of 6,783 credit hours. This gives an approximate reimbursement rate of $339,150 for 2017-2018.

The budget sent to “Local Talk” by the school has multiple accounting errors. For example, Account 7501, marked as Other Expenditures: General Supplies, had a budget of $10,200. Of these, $5,209 were spent in Year to Date (YTD) category. The balance showed $325 were left. As “Local Talk” understands, this should be $4,991. 

Another glaring error is Account 7637, marked as Chiller Maintenance. This line-item account had $18,000 in its budget. There was $28,268 spent, which exceeds the positive balance in the line-item account. According to the ECC Police Academy Budget Sheet dated June 30, 2018, the remaining balance in this account was -$15,068. However, per our calculation it should be $10,268. The difference in their account is $4,800.

According to the balance sheet, total operating expenses were -$1,039,000. Year-to-date or money spent, totaled $940,955. The total balance showed $68,336. Per our calculation it should be $98,045. The difference in their account is $29,709.

College accounts vary. They come in two categories: Public Service and Operation and Maintenance of Plant.

Public Services includes administrative salaries; clerical salaries; non-credit adjunct faculty salaries; dental plan; expense reimbursement; health insurance; medical exams; social security; bottled water; general supplies; general testing; instructional supplies; medical supplies; memberships; postage; printing; publications; rental of equipment; repairs; travel; WB Mason.

Operation and Maintenance of Plant is the second category. This includes building automation service - Siemens; Chiller maintenance; Fire Alarm and Suppression Systems; Floor maintenance service; garbage disposal; general HVAC repairs; general supplies; permits, fees and licenses; pest control; repairs and plumbing; root services; snow removal; utilities, light heat and power; water; and water treatment. 

These errors led “Local Talk” staff to do some number-crunching. According to calculations, at least 16 Essex County College line items showed incorrect numbers. The difference between the ECC-provided budget and the actual numbers runs into thousands of dollars.

Rocco Miscia, the Police Training Academy Director, declined to provide a detailed breakdown of the numbers. The director did say that the numbers provided by the ECC administration were inaccurate.

In an email, Miscia wrote, “The total revenue in this document is less than my figures by about $160K. By total revenue, I include the range rental and the scrap metal (brass and lead from ammunition that we sell to a vendor.”

It is unclear why some line item numbers are correct while others are wrong. When a computer is used to calculate addition and subtraction, there should not be even a penny’s difference.

Click HERE for a chart detailing what "Local  Talk" and what ECC sent after deadline. However, we were able to publish it despite the late delivery.



By Lev D. Zilbermints

Essex County College (ECC) has been taken off probation by its accrediting agency, Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The decision, published on the agency’s website, allows ECC to retain its accreditation until 2022 - 2023.

According to, MSCHE decided to remove probation “because the institution is in compliance with Standard 3 (Institutional Resources) and Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance). MSCHE made the decision to remove probation on June 21, but did not publish it until July 2.

The removal of probation is a victory for ECC, which has gone through two years of confusion between 2016 - 2018. At first, MSCHE placed the school on “warning” status in November 2016, citing per, “insufficient evidence of the college’s compliance with Standard 3 (Institutional Resources) and Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance).

In 2017, ECC was in the public eye, as allegations of mismanagement flew back and forth between then - Vice President for Finance and Administration Joyce Wilson Harley and the new president, Dr. Anthony Munroe. Dozens of employees were laid off in order to close the budget gap facing the school.

A new Chief Financial Officer was not named until October. Meanwhile, Joyce Wilson Harley was suspended with pay at a noisy public Board of Trustees meeting, held September 19, 2017. Pastors of churches and ECC faculty held two press conferences in August - September 2017 demanding the firing of Harley and the resignation of the Board of Trustees.

All this led to MSCHE putting the school on probation in November 2017. From that point on, ECC had one year remaining in which to make changes that would conform to MSCHE standards.

The college took specific steps to conform to MSCHE standards. These included hiring a compliance officer; installing a new chief financial officer; a new deputy financial officer; changing the composition of the board of trustees; passing new rules for the board to follow; and putting forth a multi-year plan to straighten out the school finances.

According to, a team from MSCHE visited ECC in March 2018. Team members interviewed 32 administrators, faculty, staff and trustees, the college website said.

In remarks published on the college website, ECC President Anthony Munroe thanked the entire ECC community for making a joint effort to remove ECC from probation status.

“I want to thank the students that entrusted us with their education,” said ECC President Anthony E. Munroe. “Never was the quality of the education provided at ECC called into question. I am appreciative of our dedicated faculty and staff for working tirelessly in fulfilling our mission. And, I thank the Board of Trustees for believing in and supporting my leadership of Essex County College at such a time as this. This is fantastic news and I am extremely pleased with the Commission’s vote.”

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo wrote in a Monday Facebook post, “Essex County College is a landmark institution that has provided generations of students with a strong educational foundation that has helped them embark on successful careers. Getting accreditation restored has been a team effort, with President Dr. Anthony Munroe, the Board of Trustees and the college’s faculty and staff, along with my administration and the Board of Freeholders, sharing the same goal for the college. Some difficult decisions, such as the county increasing our annual contribution to the school’s operating budget, were made to stabilize the college during this challenging time. It’s important that we all remain vigilant and continue moving the school forward so ECC continues to operate and be looked upon as a beacon of hope for its students.”

According to, the Essex County College Board of Trustees expressed satisfaction with the ECC community for getting the school off probation.

“We all know how critical this has been for the future of our institution,” said College Board of Trustees Chair Thomas C. McDermott, Jr. “Speaking for the entire Board, I commend Dr. Munroe, the College administration, faculty and staff have all done an outstanding job in leading us to this point.”

Essex County College remained fully accredited throughout both the warning and probation stages. Administrators noted that MSCHE found no fault with the school’s academic standing.

ECC has campuses in Newark, West Caldwell and Cedar Grove. There are about 9000 students attending ECC. The school will celebrate its 50th graduation next year. 


By Lev D. Zilbermints

NEWARK - The Essex County College Board of Trustees announced a Fiscal Exigency Plan, terminating up to 34 positions, at its Feb. 27 meeting here on the Main Campus.

Essex County College is trying to plus a $3.0 million deficit in Fiscal Year 2018.

“The primary immediate goals of the Fiscal Exigency Plan,” according to its document distributed at that Tuesday afternoon meeting, “are to balance the budget within the next three years, begin replenishment of the fund balance and allow for better cash flow.”

Part of the plan includes 10 different measures, including; reorganizing/reassigning college personnel to reduce functional and operational redundancies, streamline personnel-related costs, and support potential growth areas. A hiring freeze is in place for non-critical positions. Increasing enrollment hours, reducing non-salary operating expenses, modifying and/or discontinuing some ECC programs in order to more efficiently and effectively allocate resources; selling of selected College assets are also among the steps proposed by the plan.

According to Board Resolution 4-10/2-2018, at least 20 employees have been given separation notices. The positions run the gamut from lecturers and instructors to Vice President of Administration and Finance. Among these being laid off are: the Director of Media Production and Technology; Director of Corporate Training; Associate Director of the Public Safety Academy in Cedar Grove; Director of Evening and Weekend Services; Director of Fiscal Operations and Coordinator of Continuing Education.

Among these being let go is Joyce Harley, Vice President of Administration and Finance. Harley, of West Orange, was suspended with pay Sept. 19, 2017 by the trustees, pending a forensic audit of college finances. Her separation from college becomes effective June 1, 2018, ending her $205,000 annual salary.

Two Nursing instructors, one Humanities instructor, one Business instructor, two assistant Social Science professors and one assistant professor each in Business and Biology are among these laid off. Four lecturers, including two in Education Opportunity Fund, - one at its West Essex Campus in West Caldwell and one here at its Main campus - are also being let go.

The effective dates of separation vary. Seven employees have until June 1; the rest have Sept. 1.

Another 14 vacant positions are “to be closed immediately”, according to the Fiscal Exigency Plan. These positions include assistant registrar, two student service representatives, record clerk, administrative assistants, Associate Director of College Advancement, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.

Speaking at the meeting, BOT Chairman Thomas C. McDermott said, “As stressful as it is for you, we really have no choice.” If the school were to survive, layoffs proposed in the Fiscal Exigency Plan were unavoidable.

The Board unanimously passed a resolution approving the elimination of 20 positions and 14 vacant positions.

Opposition to the Fiscal Exigency Plan - also known as the Financial Stability Plan - came from staff, students, faculty and alumni.

Khadijah Scriven, Class of 2003 alumnus, urged pay cuts for those making six-figure salaries.


NEWARK - On February 23, 2018, Essex County College restarted its process to publish a newspaper, the Observer, to be run for the benefit of the students. About 15 students got inducted to serve as a member of the newspaper board.

About five years ago, the newspaper stopped publishing. Now, under the leadership of Joshua Allasan as Editor-in-chief, the ECC Observer will be published two times this semester.

Guest speaker, Local Talk Editor-in-chief Dhiren Shah, spoke about the importance of journalism. He said that journalism may not be paying a lot of money, but it’s fun, as long as you do it the right way, enjoy yourself and you have a passion for it.

Shah said, “Every journalist needs strong principles in journalism. Nowadays, fast news works differently. Fox News favors the Republican Party and CNN and MSNBC supports the Democratic Party. That is not good journalism. Good journalism is that we are a mirror, we do not have to make up your own mind and tweak it according to our needs. We must go by what is the truth. So, the truth is a very important principle.

“The second principle is independence, I have to ask the questions with an independent view of my own. It is not our duty to make the answers, but let them answer. The third thing is that you should be impartial. The fourth thing is you have to be a human being. If I were to take photos of a victim dying, and publicize it, I am hurting the family and friends of the victim, so I have to be human and not harm the innocent. And, the fifth thing is being honest to yourself.


Budget does not raise tuition

By Lev D. Zilbermints

At a Feb. 9 meeting of the Board of School Estimates (BOSE), Essex County College (ECC) approved a $60.01 million budget for the upcoming school year. Also, for the first time since 2015, the college has not raised tuition and fees. This was done partly to increase enrollment, which has decreased from about 9400 students in 2016 to 8997 students in 2017.

The BOSE is made of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., chairman; ECC Board of Trustees Chair Thomas McDermott Jr., Trustee Rev. Dr. Lanel Guyton, and Essex County Freeholders Lebby Jones and Leonard Luciano.

According to the Board of School Estimate Meeting Materials packet, the operating budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 is $60,014,693. Of this amount, $46,314,693 is aid provided from the State and other sources. The County of Essex provides $13,700,000. According to a BOSE resolution, the budget for capital expenses is $7,200,000. Of this amount, $3,600,000 is provided by the State and other revenue. The other $3,600,000 is provided by Essex County.

A proviso in the resolution states “that if the State is unable to provide the matching funds, the College shall use the County matching funds for minor capital renovation and renewal projects for fiscal year 2019.”

ECC President Anthony E. Munroe said, “We are presenting a well thought out, balanced budget that begins to address the structural issues that has plagued our College for years. This budget also sends a clear message to Middle States [Commission on Higher Education] that we are holding ourselves accountable.”

According to President Munroe, February 9 is the earliest the budget has been put together in many years. The college head also said that tuition and student fees will not be raised in the 2018-2019 school year.

Thomas McDermott, Chair of ECC Board of Trustees, said, “we are trying to stay ahead of schedule and will only get better in the future.”

This is the first time since 2014 that tuition was not raised. According to data presented at the February 6 college-wide meeting, in the years 2009 - 2012 the college had surpluses between $3.9 million and $8.8 million. Between 2010 - 2015, tuition was not raised. This led to a deficit for several years straight. Data shows that in 2013, the deficit was $1.3 million; in 2014, $5.2 million; in 2015, $400,000; in 2016, $3.0 million; in 2017, $600,000; in 2018, a projected $3.0 million.

ECC serves a population that is overwhelmingly black and Latino. Most of the 8997 students receive some form of financial aid.  Graduation rate is about 10%, with many students transferring to four-year schools like Rutgers University, Bloomfield College, Princeton, Stockton, Montclair State University, Columbia, and other schools. Graduation rate for ECC in 2014 was 7.8% compare to Morris County College 24.6%, Hudson County Community College 8.8%, Union County College 8.3%.

Compared to fiscal year 2017-2018, the college is slightly less dependent on tuition and fees for revenue. In FY 2018, the school received $35,865,000 or 58.88% in tuition and fees. FY 2019 numbers show $33,464,693 or 55.76% in tuition and fees. The gap is offset by an increase of funds from Essex County. In FY 2018 the county gave 12,450,000 or 20.44%, to ECC. In FY 2019, the county increased its share to $13,700,000 or 22.83% of total revenue. Meanwhile, the State of New Jersey decreased its share from $11,600,000 or 19.04% to $10,800,000 or 18% of total revenue. The remaining balance came from investment income, other income and fund balance.

In FY 2019 investment balance amounted to $50,000 compared to zero the previous year. Other income increased from $1,000,000 in FY 2018 to $1,500,000 in FY 2019. Fund balance in FY 2019 was $500, 000 compared to none the previous year.

Comparatively speaking, fiscal year budget trends have decreased between FY 2015 - FY 2019. In 2015, the college budget was $66.81 million; in 2016, $69.10 million. By 2017, the budget decreased to $65.03 million; by 2018, to $60.92 million.

At the February 6 college-wide meeting, held in Smith Hall, college leaders stressed the need for increasing enrollment to increase revenue. Presently, the college enrollment totals $198,647.5 billable credit hours for FY 2018. This is a continuing decrease from 206,857.5 billable credit hours in in FY 2017; 231,392 in FY 2016; and 247,736 in FY 2015.

According to the data presented on Feb. 6, enrollment has decreased 20% over the past four years.

The school’s breakdown of personnel expenses, defined as salaries and benefits, amount to a staggering total of 86%. Salaries amount to 67% while benefits amount to 19%. Fixed costs and other amount to 7% each of the college budget. President Munroe said that operating costs must decrease. Short of increasing enrollment, it was not immediately clear how this would be achieved.

The college intends to aggressively push for an increase in enrollment. It has designated “instant admit dates” once per week on February 6, 13, 20. On these days, new students can go through the enrollment process quickly and be ready to attend school during Summer I or Fall 2018 semesters.

Student Services received $4,366,233 in FY 2019 as compared to $4,455,340 in FY 2018. The percentage of total revenue went down from 7.31% to 7.28%. However, FY 2018 budget was $60,915,000 so there was more money. The FY 2019 budget is $60,014,693.


By Walter Elliott and Lev D. Zilbermints   

NEWARK - The current Essex County College Board of Trustees will do more than give their effort to extricate the school from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education's accreditation probation status on their agenda when they meet here at Smith Hall 4;30 p.m. Dec. 19.

Although its December agenda has not been posted as of Dec. 6, "Local Talk" can bet that at least one legal firm contract for their approval for "General Counsel" will be presented in the document's financial segment.

ECC's trustees approved 51 legal services invoices and/or contracts, worth $763,474.71, for 16 outside firms Nov. 21-Aug. 8, 2016. The average service invoice or contract, over those 17 meetings or months, comes out to $14,970.09.

The almost $764,000, when factoring in five contracts that had no price attached to them, makes The Faith Leaders of Essex County/North Jersey Community of Black Churchmen's Labor Day claim that that the school has paid $1.1 million in legal fees and contracts more than plausible.

That plausibility still stands when one deducts the trustees' July 20-Nov. 21 meetings. Dropping those five months aligns figures to ECC's July 1-June 30 school year budget. The likely $1 million in legal fees comes out to roughly eight percent of the college's 2016-17 $12.95 million budget.

With more than a dozen lawsuits filed by current and former employees and students, however, ECC has an apparent need to spend for outside lawyers. While some suits have been dismissed or settled, others remain pending. The expense is one of the reasons while the Middle States Commission put the school on probation last month.

Gale Gibson-Gayle and Rasheedah Hasan, the school's former president and general counsel, have filed the single largest lawsuits. They are suing ECC and the trustees $5 million each for a combined $10 million.

Gibson-Gayle and Hasan allege improper firing, breach of contract, discrimination, defamation and damage to their reputation. They, through their lawyers, said their terminations came after they wrote a report to the trustees exposing unlawful use of college finances by ECC employees.

The trustees suspended Gibson-Gayle, while out of the country, and Hasan March 25, 2016 and fired them April 20, 2016.

A credible source told "Local Talk" that ECC has spent over $25,000 fighting their lawsuits.

Other former ECC staffers who were later fired - and have filed suits in response - are former assistant general counsel Renata Wooden, general counsel administrative assistant Shannon Higgins, Gibson-Gayle executive assistant Nakeha Davis, acting director of human resource operations Juliette Cherrington and former vice president of planning, research and assessment Douglas Walcerz.

Law 360, of New York, reported that Gibson-Gayle sued ECC, claiming that she and Hasan were retaliated against because of their report. Gibson-Gayle filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court-Newark April 20; Walcerz June 29.

Cedric Ashley, Esq., said Law 360, represents Walcerz, Wooden, Higgins, Davis and Cherrington in their separate suits.

"Dr. Walcerz and my other clients," said Ashley July 10, were former employees who worked hard for the betterment of the college. We believe the facts will show that their terminations were retaliatory and illegal."

James M. Burns of Newark's Genova Burns, LLC, representing the school, declined commenting to Law 360.

Current ECC employees are also suing the school. Former executive dean and social sciences professor Susan Mulligan, West Essex Campus Prof. Felix Linfante, librarian Prof. Stephen Keister and outgoing Dean of Business/business professor Carlos Rivera have pending lawsuits. There is a pending lawsuit, Mbu vs. ECC over alleged violation of employment rights, filed Oct. 17 and pending.

The Estate of Ernesto Awad III has sued the school for reportedly back wages.

Many of those suing ECC, apart from confirming the bare fact of their lawsuit, refused to comment. One suit, Kevin Ford vs. ECC, was dismissed last year. The status of Matos vs. ECC, Barger vs. ECC and Wilson vs. ECC are not immediately clear.

ECC's Police Academy is also being sued.

Keith Martinez has sued ECCPA, his former boss at the academy, the college and the Hudson County Sheriff's Office. He claims employment discrimination and seeks back wages.

The disposition of Ricardo vs. ECCPA, from 2007, was not immediately available and status unclear.

Many former employees state in court papers that the currently suspended vice president of finance and administration, Joyce Wilson Harley, of West Orange, was a big factor in filing suit.

Former ECC purchasing director Marylyn Rutherford filed a whistleblower suit, alleging a hostile work environment. The reason, in Law 360, was that Rutherford had accused the school of skirting invoicing and contracting rules. She filed in state court July 6.

Rutherford, in her complaint, claims that Harley submitted a proposal to the Board of Trustees without proper authorization of the purchasing department or legal counsel review. The $500,000 contract involved Ricoh, a digital business service company.

The trustees, according to their Nov. 21 agenda, spent a total of $58,037.62 between February and August 2017 to three legal firms to fight at least 11 lawsuits.

ECC paid $1,332.25 to Roseland firm Lum, Drasco & Positan, LLC. $1,050 of that was paid Feb. 28 defending against Linfante, Mulligan and Keister. Another respective $117.25 and $165 were paid May 31 and July 31 against Keister and Ladylease White.

The college paid a total $9,105.75 last May-August to Atlantic City's Cooper Levenson PC against Martinez's suit. Another $180 was spent to contest Rutherford's suit.

An Oct. 21 request for board action included paying $47,419.62 to Genova Burns to handle seven cases.

That total broke down to: $9,707.60 against Charrington's case; $7,610.21 on Walcerz's case; $6,626.62 on N. Davis' case; $6,547.08 on Wooden; $6,245.61 on Higgins; $8,775 on former instructor (and "Local Talk" contributor) Lisa Durden's case and $1,907.50 on Gibson-Gayle/ Hasan's counterclaim.

It should be noted that ECC, like other public entities, have the option to seek outside counsel for special services.

The City of Orange Township's Council, for example, recently approved a roster of attorneys and legal firms that have passed their non-conflict-of-interest criteria. That roster is to be used when the city needs specialized outside attorneys.

It is not known whether ECC has a similar "standby" attorneys' roster.

Public organizations may also hire outside counsel should their own attorney or law department faces a high volume of litigation.  


NEWARK - After long standing conflicts with staff, students, and even clergy, Essex County College (ECC) has officially been put on notice.  

At a Nov. 16 meeting, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) has formally placed Essex County College on probation for one year. The Commission’s main concern was noncompliance with standards on Institutional Resources and Leadership and Governance.

The Mid-Atlantic Region Commission on Higher Education, doing business as MSCHE, is the authority recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education to conduct accreditation and pre-accreditation (candidacy status) activities for institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

Basically, MSCHE determines if the degrees handed out at institutions under its umbrella are worth anything. If the Commission strips accreditation from an institution, then for all intents and purposes that institution becomes worthless.

Members of the ECC student body, alumni, staff, and community clergy members have called for massive changes to the Board of Trustees at the college, citing the Board’s ineptitude in overseeing operations at the college.

ECC has one year to get its house in order. Otherwise, a degree there won’t be worth the paper it is printed on.

Below is a handout presented to “Local Talk” about the action taken by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in regard to Essex County College on Nov. 16, 2017:

“To accept the monitoring report and to note the visit by the Commission's representatives. To note that the institution is now in compliance with Standard 8 (Student Admissions and Retention).  

“To place the institution on probation because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with Standard 3 {Institutional Resources} and Standard 4 {Leadership and Governance}.  

“To note that the institution remains accredited while on probation. To note further that federal regulations limit the period during which an institution may be in non-compliance to two years.

“To request a monitoring report, due March 1, 2018, documenting evidence that the institution has achieved and can sustain compliance with Standard 3 and Standard 4, including but not limited to evidence of the development and implementation of:  

“(1) a financial planning and budgeting process aligned with the institution's mission, goals and plan that provides for an annual budget and multi-year budget projections, both institution-wide and among departments; utilizes planning and assessment documents; address resource acquisition and allocation for the institution.  

“(2) adequate institutional controls to deal with financial, administrative and auxiliary operations, and rational and consistent policies and procedures in place to determine allocation of assets.  

“(3) an annual independent audit confirming financial responsibility, with evidence of follow-up on any concerns cited in the audit's accompanying management letter.  

"(4) the analysis and improvement of financial practices (Standard 3) and written governing documents, such as a constitution, by-laws, enabling legislation, charter or other similar documents that: delineate the governance structure and provide for collegial governance, and the structure's composition, duties and responsibilities; assign authority and accountability for policy development and decision making including a process for the involvement of appropriate institutional constituencies in policy development and decision making, provide the selection process for governing body members.

“And (5) periodic assessment of the effectiveness of the institutional leadership and governance (Standard 4). A small team visit will follow submission of the monitoring report. To direct a prompt Commission liaison guidance visit to discuss the Commission's expectations.

To remind the institution of its obligation to inform the Commission about any and all significant developments related to any investigation{s) conducted by state, federal, or other agencies. Copies of the report{s) that follow from any of these investigations must be submitted to the Commission within 10 business days of their completion. Upon reaffirmation of accreditation, the next evaluation visit is scheduled for 2022 - 2023.”

Please see for further information.