NEWTON, NJ – Nothing has been decided yet. That was the message from Sussex County Community College Board of Trustee Chair William Curcio, college President Jon Connolly and the college’s attorney Glenn Keiz in a press meeting on Monday called to discuss controversial tweets made by Trustee Vice Chair Jerry Scanlan. Scanlan made the tweets, categorized by some as anti-Muslim and sexist, in his role as Sussex County GOP chairman.
Curcio said he could not comment on whether or not Scanlan has been asked to resign, “because the board has not met,” explaining they are going through a review process. A special meeting has been scheduled for August 20 at which most of the business will take place behind closed doors according to Curcio.
“We don’t normally meet in August,” Curcio said. “Jon Connolly wants everyone to meet face to face.” This was the first date that could accommodate everyone he said. Scanlan is expected to attend the meeting and participate in the closed session according to Curcio.
When asked if there will be action taken at the special meeting Curcio said, “I hope so.”
"We can't do nothing," Connolly said in a phone conversation explaining the reason for the pending review.
The course of action, currently “not as clear as I would like it to be” will be “dictated by advice from the board’s attorney,” according to Curcio. In weighing the options, they have to consider a number of “overlapping” rules including legislation, college by-laws, Title IX and the first amendment, according to all three men.
Another complication is the fact Scanlan’s term ends in October and he is not eligible for reappointment by the Sussex County Board of Freeholders due to term limits, Curcio confirmed.
They have not been contacted by any local elected officials, including the freeholders on this issue according to Curcio, though he did have a conversation about it with U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer. Curcio said Gottheimer was “supportive and understands the process and is concerned about how it reflects on the college.”
“The board’s overriding objective of the review is to maintain the integrity of Sussex County Community College,” Connolly said.
While there is a code of ethics for trustees, “about 99% of it” pertains to financial conflicts of interest due to the climate six years ago against which it was drafted, Curcio said, “though you can be sure we will be taking another look at it.”
The board has a mission statement and the college has core values that could also play a role in the review, according to Curcio.
Students’ conduct is governed by the student handbook. According to Curcio, if the tweets had been made by a student the college has a specific process including “two levels of review boards” that could result in anything from a “slap on the wrist to expulsion.”
Staff members’ behavior is constrained by contract language and faculty handbook. The review process is less well defined than that of students. According to Connolly, “academic freedom” pertaining to activities of an instructor in the classroom and “also the first amendment” would have to be considered if a faculty member dispatched tweets like Scanlan’s.
“In my opinion, every person in public office has an obligation to present themselves in a civil and professional manner,” Curcio said. “If we can’t do it in our local boards then we can expect it in the larger community.”
Curcio confirmed none of the trustees knew of the tweets prior to the July meeting when they were brought up by the public. He said the board had met a couple of times since then, including once with Scanlan.
Social media accounts of trustees are not monitored according to the trio.
“It’s not quite clear what the rules are regarding social media; what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” Curcio said. New ground is being broken he said.
“We have to be careful for everyone,” Connolly said, referring to any potential course of action taken by the board. He acknowledged it could have implications for faculty as well as for future boards and even beyond the college.
On July 29, the Sussex County Republican Committee Chair issued an apology, saying it was “human errors of judgment.” In his statement Scanlan claimed, in an effort to boost the number of twitter followers to the county GOP account and support President Donald Trump, he retweeted the offensive memes. Scanlan said, in doing so, he rarely tweeted original content and did not remember seeing the messages that have cause the backlash.
“It appears, that on a few occasions, I was not thorough enough in reading/viewing what I re-tweeted,” Scanlan’s statement said. He said he does “not harbor negative feelings of hate toward anyone,” based on race, religion or gender.
That twitter account status has been changed to private, restricting those who can see it. According to reports, many of the offensive tweets were aimed specifically at four congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tliab, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex and Ayanna Pressley. The retweets include a call for eradicating Islam “from every town, city, county and state in our homeland,” as well as attacks directed specifically at each of the four women.
Scanlan has been a member of the college’s board of trustees since 2011 and the Sussex County GOP Committee chair since 2015. According to his biography on the SCCC website, Scanlan led the Business Management team for the Lucent Technologies Branch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before becoming a Director at Nokia Services Solutions Group focusing on Managed Services Business Development in North America.
Neither the Sussex County Freeholders nor Scanlan could be contacted prior to publication.