Raymond Firmalino, the interim director of the Asian American Cultural Center, announced his resignation in an email to the AACC community at midnight on Monday after just eight months at Yale.
The announcement came hours after staff members and peer liaisons at the AACC overwhelmingly approved two separate no-confidence resolutions calling for Firmalino’s removal. His resignation will leave the AACC without a permanent director or assistant director.
Firmalino wrote in the email that he formally resigned on April 10 after months of “careful reflection.” On April 7, several AACC members presented Senior Dean of Administrative Affairs Burgwell Howard with a 51-page report outlining a litany of allegations against Firmalino, according to Mimi Pham ’17, the head peer liaison. The report accused Firmalino of poor management of the center’s budget and lack of involvement in the peer liaison application process, among numerous other allegations.
“What’s really important is that Ray would never have resigned without the fact that students compiled a report and went above Ray because he wasn’t listening to student feedback in the first place,” said Pham, who spearheaded the no-confidence vote. “We cannot forget the fact that there was student involvement and student activism that pushed him over the edge.”
In August, Firmalino — who has a master’s degree in education from Harvard — joined the AACC as assistant director, a new position funded by the budget increases for the four cultural centers that Yale announced in November 2015. He assumed the role of interim director in March, six months after Saveena Dhall, a beloved administrator who had run the AACC for 16 years, stepped down from the director position to become an associate dean at the Yale School of Nursing.
Firmalino’s resignation comes just weeks after the University’s search for a new permanent director for the AACC, which appeared to be nearing its end as four finalists visited campus in February, ground to a halt when the leading candidate rejected the job offer, according to a member of the search committee who asked to remain anonymous. In an email to the News early Tuesday morning, Howard said the search for a new director has been reopened. He added that now that Firmalino has announced his resignation, the University is looking to identify candidates for the soon-to-be vacant assistant director position as well.
“Since his notifications to me and the University early last week, we have been exploring options for interim leadership of the AACC until the new director (and now, assistant director) can be identified,” Howard wrote.
In an interview with the News early Tuesday morning, Firmalino said he would stay on through the end of semester to assist with the transition and coordinate end-of-year events. Asked exactly when he would leave the position, Firmalino said he is still “working that out with the Dean’s Office.”
Firmalino told the News that he and Howard have discussed students’ concerns about his performance in the past, but that Howard did not bring the report to Firmalino’s attention before he resigned.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was a function of me just genuinely not feeling like it was the right fit,” Firmalino said. “You know, people leave positions all the time. The director of 16 years, Saveena Dhall, she obviously felt that she needed to pursue new personal and professional horizons and that’s exactly what I did.”
Eleven of the 12 peer liaisons voted in favor of the no-confidence referendum while the 12th did not cast a vote. Of the 23 AACC staffers, 18 voted in favor of the referendum while one voted against, two abstained and two did not participate.
According to Pham and five other undergraduates involved in the AACC, Firmalino has displayed minimal administrative competence since the beginning of his tenure in August.
“In the beginning, I know that a lot of staff members were really hopeful because we were really excited to see the Yale administration giving us someone like Ray who seemed on paper really qualified,” said one staff member who asked to remain anonymous. “In the beginning and knowing that he was taking on two jobs, definitely I could understand why things weren’t going perfectly, but as the year progressed, it became more and more obvious that it wasn’t really an issue of newness but an issue of his ability to do his job.”
The problems became more apparent earlier this semester when students learned that Firmalino had failed to spend a large portion of the AACC’s budget, putting the center at risk of losing funding next year, Pham said.
Firmalino declined to comment on any matters related to the AACC’s budget.
According to students interviewed, Firmalino’s failure to perform basic administrative tasks — like reimbursing students for small expenses or following through on event plans — has placed a heavy burden of responsibility on student employees at the AACC.
“Nothing is improving. It’s frankly getting worse,” said one peer liaison, who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly about Firmalino. “It’s really frustrating and upsetting to see how much work student are doing, when a lot of these students are working student jobs, doing extracurriculars. They’re not here to run the center.”
In March, Firmalino played almost no role in the application process to select next year’s peer liaisons, attending only three of the 28 application interviews, Pham said.
Firmalino declined to comment on Pham’s account of the peer liaison selection process and said he was unsure whether all student groups have been reimbursed, adding that a number of new groups recently applied for funding.
The students’ concerns about Firmalino are outlined in detail in the report shared with Howard on April 7. Pham said she has no plans to publicly release the full report, but she provided the News an eight-page summary criticizing Firmalino for his failure to nurture an inclusive environment, communicate appropriately with students and staffers or adequately manage the center’s finances and programming.
Another peer liaison who asked to remain anonymous said Firmalino has asked him to leave the AACC multiple times after deciding to close the center at 10 p.m., adding that the other cultural centers remain open to students who wish to use them as study spaces late into the night.
When asked about having students leave the cultural center at 10 p.m., Firmalino said the motivation behind closing the center “on time” is to ensure the safety of the students. He added that the other cultural centers have two full-time administrators and so are better able to ensure that there is adequate supervision.
The controversy over Firmalino is reminiscent of the 2015 resignation of the director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, Rodney Cohen, after nearly 150 students signed a 60-page petition calling for his removal. The petition argued that Cohen was rarely present in the Af-Am House and retaliated against students who were critical of his leadership, among other complaints.
The AACC is located at 295 Crown St.