Sussex County Community College Board of Trustees Chair William P. Curcio and college President Jon Connolly said Monday there would be no hasty moves when it comes to determining the fate of board Vice Chair Jerry Scanlan.
“The executive committee has reviewed various courses of action with our board attorney and it’s not totally clear just what legal pathways we have available to the board,” Curcio said. “We’re hoping to have that done very quickly so that we can present it to the board.”
Scanlan came under fire by members of the public during the last board meeting on July 23 for a series of disparaging tweets referencing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. The four freshman Democratic congresswomen of color have recently been subject to criticism by President Donald Trump.
In addition to his role as vice chair of the board, Scanlan is also the chairman of the Sussex County Republican Committee and the tweets were shared via the county party’s official Twitter account.
As of Tuesday morning, the Twitter handle @SussexCountyGOP had nearly 22,000 followers and sent just over 17,000 tweets. The account has been set to private, so that only followers can see the tweets.
Curcio said the board would call a special meeting on Aug. 20 to address the situation further.
“We haven’t sat on our hands, we haven’t sat back,” he said. “We are pursuing this in the best possible legal and intelligent manner that we can.”
The board does not usually meet in August, and Curcio said the far out meeting date was necessary to ensure the majority of board members could make it.
“The approach in possible board action is going to be really dictated and presented to us by our board attorney through his research,” he said. “It’s not as clear as we would like it to be. There are overlapping situations and regulations and legislation that tend to conflict.”
The board also has its own set of bylaws that it has to take a look at, Curcio said.
When asked if a student who posted similar content to social media would undergo the same process, Curcio said the answer is clear.
“The college has a code of conduct for students who attend the college,” he said. “It would follow the code of conduct policy and in that policy there is a whole procedure that you go through.”
Consequences could range from “a slap on the wrist” to “expulsion,” depending on the severity of the offense.
If it were a faculty member who had posted similar content, the answer isn’t as clear, Connolly said.
“It’s primarily dictated by the faculty handbook and the faculty contract,” he said. “Those things are spelled out there. There’s also academic freedom and what constitutes academic freedom.”
Each situation would need to be considered on a case by case basis, depending on the circumstances, Connolly said.
In responding to the backlash, Scanlan said he believes Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is trying to create a distraction for being called out on the carpet by county lawmakers.
“This is a very lame attempt by the Murphy administration to change the subject in Sussex County,” Scanlan said in a statement posted to the Sussex GOP’s Facebook page. “It comes on the heels of a demand by the Sussex County legislators for the Murphy administration to account for its reasoning behind its illegal Sanctuary State directive.”
Attorney General Directive 2018-6, known as the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” limits the types of voluntary assistance that state, county and local law enforcement agencies may provide to federal civil immigration authorities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Of the congresswomen, Scanlan said, “I stand by my wholehearted opposition to the policies they promote.”
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) has called for Scanlan to resign, labeling him “Islamophobic” in a statement on its web site.
Whether or not he is the individual responsible for the tweets, the organization said Scanlan allowed the party’s Twitter feed to be used for racist, anti-Muslim and xenophobic tweets.
“While we can be certain that these tweets are not reflective of the values of the Sussex County Community College, we sincerely hope that this kind of bias-motivated mocking and intimidation is not reflective of the New Jersey Republican Party,” CAIR-NJ Executive Director James Sues said. “If indeed it is not, Jerry Scanlan should be removed from his position as the county’s GOP chairman. New Jersey epitomizes a welcoming spirit of inclusivity that we are all proud of. Nobody wants to be dragged back to the dark ages of racism and bigotry that are characterized by these posts.”
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, according to the organization’s web site.
According to the board, Scanlan is a director within the Nokia Services Solutions Group focusing on managed services business development in North America.
He was appointed to the board on Nov. 30, 2011.