2016 | Schools

Montgomery College Considers Permanent Security for President

Action follows 'threatening communications,' board chairwoman says

DeRionne Pollard

Montgomery College website

The Montgomery College Board of Trustees is expected to decide early next year how to continue providing security for college President DeRionne Pollard.

The community college has provided security for Pollard since earlier this year under a pilot program. In February, the board in closed session approved the program at a cost of about $68,000 and hired a security firm called J.R. Dickensheets LLC of Germantown, according to college spokesman Ray Gilmer. The pilot program involves retired or off-duty police officers. One is stationed in the president’s suite of offices in Rockville. Pollard also is driven to functions, where an officer is stationed nearby.

The board’s decision to create the program was based on “threatening communications” that have been directed toward Pollard, who hasn’t shied away from dealing with contentious issues, such as allowing undocumented immigrants to attend the community college at in-state tuition rates, or making unpopular business decisions, such as outsourcing campus bookstores, board Chairwoman Marsha Suggs Smith wrote in an online opinion piece titled, “Why We Decided to Protect Our President.”

“Any one of those elements could attract hostility from the unbalanced or the narrow-minded, but in a tight economy, and in the wake of a vitriolic presidential election, more folks have seemed to be looking for someone to blame,” Suggs Smith wrote in the piece, which appeared Friday on the website Inside Higher Ed.

The security decision also follows incidents surrounding Pollard. Gilmer said about a year ago a former employee showed up at Pollard’s house. Also, Pollard’s staff told school security about a year ago about a man who tried to deliver to her office a suspicious package that he claimed had to be given directly to her. Rockville police were called and the man was arrested and charged with trespassing, according to documents provided by the college.

Pollard has been the subject of hate messages on social media, one as recently as last month. “It’s been a series of disturbing incidents,” Gilmer said.

Shawn D. Harrison, the college’s director of public safety and emergency management, conducted a “top-to-bottom” security analysis, Gilmer said.

“What we didn’t expect…was that [Harrison] would present our president’s safety in a new light: ‘How would you feel if something happened to your president?’ ” Suggs Smith wrote. “The threats, the controversial business decisions, the late-night travel—our safety and security director’s decades of experience told her that those were red flags. She demanded to know why we hadn’t acted sooner.”

Pollard, who has been the college’s president since 2010, said Monday that she welcomes the security, though she initially turned it down.   

 “I’m from Chicago, and I have confidence in my ability to navigate situations,” Pollard said. Lately, though, she was unsure she could safely navigate every situation.

“I listened to the professionals,” she said.

Gilmer said college security hasn’t decided the best way to proceed, whether the permanent security should be provided by a contractor or with new or existing staff. He said the coverage would be provided during Pollard’s work day; however, she works long hours that often include breakfast and evening meetings.

Montgomery College serves 60,000 students on three campuses—in Rockville, Germantown and Takoma Park—and also runs two training centers and three community engagement centers that help residents find resources.

Pollard is often meeting with college stakeholders, raising money for the college and engaging in a robust philanthropy program.

“In the midst of that, I’m still running a $300 million business with 3,000 employees,” Pollard said. The security decision “was an opportunity for the board to ensure my safety.”

Gilmer said the contract and permanent security would be paid through the college’s discretionary funding for security.

“It’s fair to say every dollar counts, but when it comes to providing security for the college and its staff, investing in security is a good choice,” Gilmer said. “We consider security a top priority. The safety of all the students, faculty and staff is at least equal to all the education that the college offers.”

County Council spokesman Neil Greenberger said the council, which provides the college with about 45 percent of its revenue in the current fiscal year, had no notice of the publication of Suggs Smith’s opinion piece and was surprised by her statement.