Head of Cal U convocation center dismissed
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The executive director of California University of Pennsylvania's convocation center has been relieved of his duties, an official of the Iowa firm that manages the facility said Wednesday.
Ben Bolander's departure was confirmed hours before Cal U's council of trustees met Wednesday night and received a rebuke from the head of the faculty union, who said university leadership including trustees failed to respond quickly enough to campus financial woes that preceded the May firing of president Angelo Armenti Jr.
Cal U this fall faces a budget deficit, a 9 percent enrollment loss and mounting debt over campus construction projects, including the $59 million convocation center.
Officials said little about why the executive director, brought in this spring by VenuWorks to run the building, is being replaced.
Without elaborating, John Siehl, director of support services for Ames, Iowa-based VenuWorks, said Mr. Bolander "just wasn't performing to our expectations. ... He wasn't a good match."
Mr. Siehl acknowledged concern among Cal U officials that the center and its arena that holds 6,000 people develop a steady stream of event bookings to erase a budget deficit in its operations.
But Mr. Siehl said he is optimistic of the prospects for doing so. He said Mr. Bolander, who could not be reached for comment, would likely be reassigned.
Cal U spokeswoman Christine Kindl called the departure a personnel matter and said the university had no comment. Asked how it may affect attempts to increase center bookings, she replied, "It will more or less depend on who fills the position."
During the public-comment portion of the trustees meeting, Michael Slavin, theater and dance department chairman and president of Cal U's chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said the board and others including himself must take ownership for Cal U's current state.
He said the campus was lulled by years of prosperity and that even when problems late in Mr. Armenti's tenure became apparent, some administrators kept silent, fearing retaliation for being disloyal.
"We are the leadership of this university, and we failed to do our jobs," he said. "It was our duty -- council of trustee members, university administrators and even myself as faculty leadership -- to stand up and question the actions of our former president.
"I have only one regret in all that has happened over the past few months: that I didn't act sooner," he added.
Mr. Slavin noted that trustees never responded to letters from APSCUF and from campus department chairs in April and May voicing concerns that included escalating spending on nonacademic pursuits, even as course sections were pared and departmental supplies as basic as toner cartridges ran short.
"I point this out simply as a demonstration of ... one of the behaviors that we must change," he said of the board silence last spring. Mr. Slavin asked that agendas at board meetings be adjusted to include a time for the faculty union to address campus concerns.
Interim president Geraldine Jones noted continuing progress in cutting a campus deficit that this summer reached $11.8 million, nearly 10 percent of the school's $120 million operating budget. She said that through spending cuts, the deficit has been reduced to $3 million to date.
"I will not talk only about the good things here at Cal U -- and there are many -- but I will also be open about the challenges," she told the board.
Also during the public comment portion of the board's meeting, Larry Celaschi, a 1982 Cal U graduate, said the university had failed for eight months to properly investigate allegations of financial malfeasance and sexual misconduct involving a university employee. He drew an analogy to Penn State's inaction in allegations of child sexual abuse.
Ms. Kindl said the alleged victim was an adult and that the university and its police investigated and found no evidence of a crime. She also said the alleged victim did not want to pursue charges.
First Published September 6, 2012 12:01 am