Archived Story

Soney sent packing

Published 11:38am Wednesday, September 12, 2012

AHOSKIE – Stunned silence.

That was the mood cast over a group of Roanoke-Chowan Community College faculty/staff employees after learning of Tuesday night’s decision made by school’s Board of Trustees to end the employment of RCCC President Dr. Ralph Soney earlier than expected.

It was that same group of Soney supporters who were seen helping their former president clean out his office just moments after the Trustees reached their decision at shortly past 9 p.m.

Dr. Ralph Soney

“What were they thinking,” said one RCCC staffer as they wheeled a cart into Soney’s office to assist in the hasty departure of the President.

“Apparently not with their brains,” answered another RCCC employee, more than likely referencing the decision reached by the board.

Following a two-hour and two-minute closed session, the Trustees reconvened in open session where Chairwoman Wendy Ruffin Barnes asked for a motion concerning the matter of Soney’s letter of resignation. He had submitted that letter to the Trustees in which he asked to remain onboard until Dec. 31 of this year.

“I move that we respectfully accept Dr. Soney’s letter of resignation effective Sept. 11, 2012,” said Trustee, the Rev. David Stackhouse.

Trustee Andre Lassiter offered a second and the motion passed by a 9-2 vote. Joining Stackhouse and Lassiter in the majority vote were Barnes, Vice Chairman Ronald Gatling, Brenda Greene, Jeri Pierce, Albert Vann, Carl White and Mary Harrell Sessoms. Trustees Virginia Spruill and Lillie Owens White opposed the motion. Trustee James Eure was absent from the meeting.

The electronic recording of the meeting by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald clearly captured a third “no” vote. However, that vote perhaps came from an individual seated in the crowded room who was not a member of the board. Sessoms said she heard the voice as well.

“It came from somewhere behind me,” she said following the meeting.

After the vote, Barnes read a statement from the board.

“Dr. Soney, it’s with regrets that we accept your resignation. You’ve been a good leader of the college during your time here. We appreciate your service to the college and wish you good luck,” Barnes said.

When asked by the News-Herald following the meeting why the board chose to not honor Soney’s request in his letter to remain in the role of president until Dec. 31, Barnes said that question could not be answered due to it being a “personnel issue.”

“I’ve enjoyed serving, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Soney stated as he addressed the trustees following the vote. “To the staff, it’s been a great journey. You’ve done a lot to move us forward. If I can be of any assistance to you, you know how to get in touch with me. I wish you all the best.”

RCCC’s faculty and staff were apparently supportive of Soney. During the two-hour wait while the Trustees were in closed session, a school staffer handed the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald a copy of a letter, signed by 57 RCCC employees, addressed to the Board of Trustees. It read as follows:

“We, the undersigned faculty and staff, support the role of our President, Dr. R. Soney, in moving Roanoke-Chowan Community College forward in the education of our students. Throughout his tenure he has improved campus operations and expanded programs in order to serve the community. These activities also contributed to the SACS reaccreditation initiative of the college that was finalized this year. Along with his leadership, the campus continues to provide a positive learning environment as well as an open and welcoming atmosphere for all visitors, guests, students and staff. All of this facilitates the goal in promoting every student’s personal educational goals in serving the community’s needs.”

Another RCCC staffer, Joe Rampersad, asked the Trustees if he could address the board. However, his request came after there was a motion and a second on the floor to adjourn the meeting. Barnes encouraged Rampersad to get on the agenda for the board’s next meeting.

Barnes said the board will now embark upon the task of seeking Soney’s replacement.

“Until an interim candidate can be found, the board will find an appropriate party to serve as acting president,” she said.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald was hoping to add remarks from Soney regarding his sudden departure, but he was unavailable on Wednesday morning due to a prior commitment. Attempts to contact Soney will be made Wednesday afternoon.

Soney was hired Nov. 1, 2005 as RCCC’s sixth president since its founding. The veteran educator, with over 30 years of experience, came to RCCC from Pitt Community College where he served as Vice President for Academics. He also served at Wayne Community College as Division head of Social Services, Human Services, Agriculture and Natural Resources.

  • dboone51

    I can’t imagine Dr. Soney was asked to leave just so the Board can hire someone else that all (or almost all) of the Board members have already selected as the college’s next president. That seems unlikely.

    Anybody familiar with the selection process for a community college president knows that there is nothing quick about it. No matter how a president leaves, it generally takes a few months, sometimes more than a year to hire a new one. I believe it took about a year to hire Dr. Wyatt after Dr. Mitchell retired. It took about 5 months, give or take a month, to hire Dr. Soney after Dr. Wyatt left. And you can bet the State Board is going to be involved, regardless. The Board knows this. That’s probably the main reason they put up with Soney for so long: It’s a major pain to hire a new president.

    Suggest Removal

  • Tarheel1

    Dr.Soney does deserve credit for guiding the college through yet another reaccreditation process, just as all of his predecessors have done. I don’t know why the Board is canning him now. But I do know there are other reasons to immediately terminate somebody besides just to “more quickly put people in place they like.” Since the Board approved of the outrageous salaries he paid some employess, approved the unjustified firings of other employees, and tolerated lawsuits he brought on the college–I assumed the Board liked him well enough. So I don’t know why they suddenly don’t like him anymore.

    And I don’t know how “moving the college forward” is defined. If it is defined as keeping the doors open, he has certainly moved the college forward. But as the former student who wrote the recent letter to the editor noted, the quality of service has declined over the past few years. I, too, know of students who have chosen to pursue a community college education out of our area, and it is not because they are trying to catch up with RCCC as it moves forward.

    The Roanoke Chowan area does deserve better. I hope we get it this time.

    Suggest Removal

  • jochenkunstler

    The only reason to immediately terminate somebody , who had resigned is to make sure the board can more quickly put people in place they like and give the state board less time to react.

    Unfortunately Dr. Somey’s interview is not online (at least I can’t find it). Our area, the schools, the College, and many other institutions are way behind the times compared to the rest of the State. All the boards and commissions seem to be populated by the same rotating circle of people. Anyone not seeing the connection must be blind. I am aware of many of the other challenges we face (poverty, largely segregated society/schools, churches and institution), but we can not keep using them as excuses to cement the status quo and drive out everybody who tries to change things.
    The Boards (School and Community College need to stop trying to micromanage the organizations they are supposed to oversee).
    No superintendent in a large number of years has served out his term (Dr. Fahey for example in large part, because he was not offered an extension in a sensible time frame), and now we have driven out a College President that earned us reaccreditation and without a doubt has moved the College forward.
    Hertford County and the Roanoke Chowan area deserves better, our children and students deserve better.

    Suggest Removal

    • NewYork

      Very well stated. Hertford County is plagued by a rotation of exceptionally poor leaders that masquerade as educators, entrepreneurs and supporters of progress. We have to wake up recognize that we and up being our own worst enemies when it comes to paving our way to success. Soney was not the problem.

      I haven’t been fond of some of the things that I heard Soney did when it comes to College employees that I have known for years, but did come to appreciate his effort to keep that College afloat and engaged in efforts that reflected things been done in real cities. Regardless of how strong or weak of a leader he may have been, I think that he was brave… brave to continue trying to function in our county (one that attempts to feed on the souls of those that don’t support nepotism).

      I would encourage each citizen to pay close attention to that so-called Board of Trustees. That is not a shot at each person on the Board or their characters. But it is definitely a shot at the vast majority of their levels of professionalism and know-how when it comes to providing guidance for our primary institution of higher learning. Leave the politics and self-serving motivations at home.

      Suggest Removal

  • Tarheel1

    Ummm. Not all of those who signed that letter of support actually understood what they were signing. Many, if not all, of those signatures were obtained during a cookout on campus. A number of those signatures came from people who did not read (or were not told) what the signatures were for and simply added their name to a list of names they thought was a headcount for the meal.

    Suggest Removal

  • Buddy

    I’m shocked! I guess the Board finally figured out that Soney worked for them and not the other way around.

    Suggest Removal

  • Starr

    Of course, Soney has his supporters, but I can assure you that there are as many if not more who are relieved he’s gone. As someone else pointed out, he fired and ran off numerous employees. People were afraid of him, and rightly so. For example, one (former)employee had some concerns about salaries and made the mistake of requesting all employee salaries (which are public information). Soney did provide the salaries but only after sending a campus-wide email saying the request was unethical. Then shortly after he eliminated this inquisitive employee’s position, effectively firing her. Everyone else got the message: “Do as told. Don’t ask questions, or else….”

    Suggest Removal

    • ghopper

      During Dr. Soney’s tenure, many qualified, talented employees were let go through non-renewal of contract, reduction-in-force, or flat out termination. An estimated 30+ lost their jobs. Let us not forget that, one month after receiving the “Employee of the Year” award, a career employee was RIFd. Has Dr. Soney moved the college forward?

      Suggest Removal

  • skippy1975

    As a former RCCC student, I think the board made the wrong move of what they done to Dr. Soney. Dr. Soney was a great leader for the community college. He brought and did alot for the college. I don’t understand why they let a great man like that leave. I wish you the very best Dr. Soney. It was great being a student there at your college.Take care, and God Bless.

    Suggest Removal

    • Jeff

      I don’t understand why the Board did not fire him sooner.

      Suggest Removal

    • Dawn

      As someone familiar with R-CCC and Dr. Soney, I can say that Dr. Soney interacts well with students. He can be charming and charismatic. However, he can also be ruthless and mean spirited when dealing with employees. Since Soney has been at RCCC (since fall 2005), he has terminated–by firing or non-renewing contracts or eliminating job positions–at least 20 people. That’s a lot by any standard. Some of the people he fired had been with college for nearly 20 years or more. And that’s not counting the people he has “inspired” to retire or to find employment elsewhere. Now he has simply been given the boot he has given so many others. Karma.

      Suggest Removal

  • criticalthinker

    good ole hertford county politics – same people, making the same backward decisions. a few of those of who voted in the affirmative can stand to be ousted, too.

    Suggest Removal

Editor's Picks