After six years at the helm of Tarrant County College, Eugene Giovannini soon no longer will be chancellor.
The board of trustees on March 17 voted to begin terminating Giovannini. The vote was 6-0, with trustee Jeannie Deakyne absent.
For the past two weeks, the board met in executive session to discuss whether to terminate Giovannini’s contract. Board President Teresa Ayala described these discussions as difficult. She said trustees had good cause for ending the chancellor’s contract.
“We believe this action is in the college’s best long-term interests, and that it is both appropriate and necessary in light of the information recently made available to the board through the independent third-party investigation,” Ayala said.
Good cause could include the chancellor was grossly negligent, violated trustee directives, or engaged in disrespectful conduct, according to Giovannini’s contract.
Trustees hired an independent firm to investigate Giovannini after a former administrator filed a lawsuit claiming he retaliated against her over disciplining an employee with whom he was having an alleged affair.
One of trustees’ top duties is to hire a chancellor. They review the leader’s job performance, set the salary and, if needed, fire their appointee. Trustees are elected by single-member districts.
Prior to their vote, trustees had to inform Giovannini of their plans to terminate his contract. He now has an opportunity for a hearing, according to his contract. Giovannini has 30 days to request a hearing examining the good cause allegations.
Giovannini’s contract also outlines that if he is fired with good cause, he will receive his base salary that was earned and unpaid through his termination date, any business expenses due to him and payment of his vacation, holiday, sick or personal leave time.
Giovannini earns an annual base salary of $432,836.
Elva LeBlanc, executive vice chancellor and provost, is acting chancellor. She is getting a monthly stipend of $7,500 for acting as TCC’s interim leader. The board appointed her to the position on Feb. 18.
“We are confident that the operations of the college are in good hands under the strong, capable leadership of Acting Chancellor Dr. Elva LeBlanc,” Ayala said.
In February, Kristen Bennett, a former executive vice president of advancement, filed the lawsuit claiming Giovannini retaliated against her. Bennett alleges the district ignored her right to due process, First Amendment rights and violated the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII and Title IX.
Bennett, the former executive vice president, is seeking to be reinstated in her position plus monetary damages for her $207,000 salary, mental anguish, deprivation of procedural due process and her attorney’s fees.
TCC on March 17 also asked a federal judge to dismiss the entirety of Bennett’s lawsuit, according to court documents. The college’s lawyers argue Bennett was an at-will employee when she attempted to resign and later rescinded it; Bennett’s contract had not been renewed at that point.
“By submitting her resignation on Nov. 15, 2021, (Bennett) exercised her right as a non-contract employee to resign at any time for any reason,” TCC’s attorneys wrote.
The attorneys also rebuffed Bennett’s other allegations, writing her lawsuit did not provide enough evidence to support her claims.
Bennett was brought in to lead the TCC Foundation in 2020. Giovannini handpicked Bennett to lead the nonprofit, according to her lawsuit. She replaced a longtime executive director, who was switched out after a confidential audit warned an abrupt change would hinder the foundation’s fundraising efforts.
The Locke Lord law firm is conducting the investigation. TCC has spent $50,826 for the law firm to examine complaints filed with the board. On March 24, Trustees are expected to consider setting aside up to $200,000 for Locke Lord’s services.
“I wanted a little running room in case we needed more timely assistance,” Carol Bracken, associate general counsel, told trustees at a March 10 workshop.
Trustees hired Giovannini in 2016. He was one of two finalists for the job. Giovannini succeeded Erma Johnson Hadley, who was chancellor for five years until her death in October 2015.
Going into the job, Giovannini described his leadership style as being focused on students and how the entire TCC system supports their needs.
As chancellor, Giovannini oversaw the passage of an $825 million bond that voters approved in 2019. The bond program is aimed at modernizing most of TCC’s campuses. The bond was the district’s first in 25 years.
Enrollment has declined under Giovannini’s leadership, according to TCC enrollment figures. In fall 2016, 51,705 students were enrolled across all six campuses. The college has 41,845 students in classes this spring. That is a 19% decrease over that six-year period. Part of the decline can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.