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President of Maritime Academy is Dismissed

By Courtney C. Gross

Citing a lack of confidence in his ability to manage the school, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s Board of Trustees voted yesterday to dismiss its president, Admiral Richard G. Gurnon, six months after the board appointed him, some of those who attended the board meeting said.

The board voted 9 to 1 to dismiss Gurnon, the attendees said. The vice president of the college, Captain Allen R. Hansen, also was summoned by the board. He resigned before the meeting, but attended yesterday’s vote.

Hansen has received a severance package, said Geoffrey C. Wilkinson, a former trustee and board chairman, who was on the selection committee that recommended Gurnon’s appointment.

No board members returned telephone calls from the Globe. One trustee of the 11-member board, who was traveling, did not attend the meeting.

The board’s only dissenting vote was cast by Lisa Gusmini, the school’s alumni representative on the board. Gusmini was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that she had been surprised by the move, and that she had asked the board chairman, Arthur Desrochers, for an explanation of Gurnon’s dismissal, but he interrupted her and adjourned the meeting.

“I am also in the dark,” said Gusmini, a 1986 graduate of the paramilitary college along Buzzards Bay. “I had no idea they were going to do this, and I’m on the board. That tells you how this board operates.”

Gurnon received a letter on Thursday from Desrochers stating the board would hold a meeting yesterday to decide on his future at the 112-year-old academy.

Gurnon said yesterday by phone that he was not expecting the letter and was surprised by his dismissal. He is a 27-year veteran of the academy and was the acting president for two years, prior to his appointment by a board vote of 6 to 5 in June.

“All I know is I stand on my performance,” Gurnon said. “I am an employee at will … I serve at their pleasure. They voted their displeasure.”

Despite a steady snowfall early yesterday, more than 200 alumni and faculty attended the meeting, many in support of Gurnon, Wilkinson said. Gurnon and Hansen issued separate statements during the meeting, which outlined their accomplishments, Gurnon said.

“He’s always been as fair and honest as he possibly could, as recognized by the amount of alumni there today and the support of the former chairman of the board,” Wilkinson said of Gurnon.

Specific reasons for the dismissal were not given at the meeting, or in the letter, Gurnon said. Some of Gurnon’s supporters said the former president’s strict adherence to the academy’s regimental handbook might have contributed to his dismissal.

Gurnon declined to allow the Student Government Association to control the school’s pub, The Fantail, a policy supported by some members of the Board of Trustees. Gurnon also did not extend the bar’s hours to 2 a.m.

The state Board of Higher Education, which meets on Dec. 15, must ratify the dismissal. The academy is a public college with about 900 students, both women and men. It is one of two “special mission” colleges in the state; the other is the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

The college’s legal counsel and associate dean, Stephen Kearney, will act as interim president until a replacement is found. He described the decision of the board as a “cumbersome process.”

“This has been a difficult week and a difficult day,” Kearney said yesterday in a telephone interview. “We will continue to work to improve the school.”

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy Foundation, a fund-raising arm of the school, will hold a meeting today at the academy to issue a statement on Gurnon, Wilkinson said.