Philip Pergola arrived on the Massasoit Community College campus as a bright-eyed 22-year-old, eager to teach business and constitutional law. July 1 would have marked the tenured professor’s 39th year at the college.
To date, hundreds of students have taken his courses and many faculty members have formed strong relationships with the likable professor. In August 2002, Charles Wall, president of the college, asked him to become the chief financial officer of the institution, to help untangle a few financial messes. He gladly accepted, hoping to strengthen the college he loves.
“Massasoit Community College is important to me,” says Pergola. “It’s my home; I grew up here.”
But after research Pergola did that questioned whether some of his faculty colleagues were being paid too much, he became deeply unpopular -- and now he says he’s being forced out for being a whistle blower.
The hassles, Pergola says, are rooted in a report that he drafted last year, which indicated that several faculty members at the school were getting paid extra for teaching part-time courses, while failing to carry full teaching loads. The report, which he says was meant to be internally distributed, was leaked to the news media and to members of the faculty. Since that time, Pergola says it’s been a rocky road -- a road that culminated in a letter last week indicating that today would be his last as chief financial officer.
“I was trying to find missing money,” an emotional Pergola said Thursday. “We were losing close to $1 million each year.” He believes that the questions he raised in his report are the main motivation for the dismissal.
Dick Cronin, a spokesman for the college, said Thursday that he could not comment on specific reasons for the dismissal because it’s a personnel matter. He added that Pergola was informed in August 2005 that he would be expected to leave the position on June 30, but the professor says that he always maintained that he planned to stay on board as the chief financial officer.
“I initially brought the problems to President Wall,” recalls Pergola. “He told me there was nothing wrong with the practice -- that everyone does it.” But the professor felt that it was a severe problem, so he requested a private audit “to check his numbers.” Preliminary results of that audit, released in March, contradicted suggestions that many full-time faculty members were delinquent in performing their full-time teaching duties.
But Pergola remained convinced that something was amiss. He says that the instructions for the audit were drafted by Wall’s lawyer, and that the audit’s findings seemed questionable to him, in light of his own knowledge of the college’s finances.
Currently, a state auditor is conducting an investigation of the situation. Many faculty members have expressed outrage at Pergola, he says, for continuing to press the matter. They recently gave him a vote of no confidence, saying that his actions could ultimately undermine the accreditation of the college.
Cronin says the college is confident in the results of the independent audit and has welcomed the scrutiny of the state auditor. “We’re very positive about the college,” he says. “We’ve welcomed them to come in and look at everything.”
Pergola says he never meant to harm Massasoit. “This was supposed to be an internal look at missing money,” says the professor. “All I wanted was to find out what was going on.”
Wall will no longer talk to Pergola without a witness present, according to Pergola. A letter from the president dated June 23 said that Pergola was supposed to have told Wall “by Monday, June 19, 2006" that he wanted to remain a faculty member. However, upon discussion between lawyers for the college and for Pergola, the deadline has been extended to today at 5 p.m. The president did not return calls for comment on Thursday.
Pergola says he’d like to keep teaching at the college, but he doesn’t know if he can. “If I thought I did something wrong, it would be different,” he said Thursday, while packing up photographs and papers in his office. “I started this to fix a problem. And the problem will still be here even if I’m gone.”