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Johns Hopkins ousts leader of summer programs canceled at last minute

Jeremy Kalfus, 14, prepares to attend a program run by the Center for Talented Youth last week. It was canceled late Friday afternoon. (Mason Kalfus) (Mason Kalfus)

The director of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth was removed Thursday, less than a week after hundreds of families received last-minute notice of cancellations and after days of upheaval marred the reputation of the 43-year-old program.

Johns Hopkins University Provost Sunil Kumar announced that Stephen Gange, a professor and executive vice provost for academic affairs, would take over as the troubled program’s interim executive director. Calling Gange a “trusted leader” and “proud parent of a CTY alumna,” he said he “played a key role in helping JHU navigate a safe and healthy return to campus for our students during the pandemic.”

Kumar promised a review of the decisions that precipitated the program’s partial collapse, with “a full report to university administration,” while pledging that on-site instructors and staff members affected by the cancellations will get their full salaries. Retention bonuses will be developed for on-site staffers and instructors, he said, and an operational support team for CTY programs will be established.

Jill Rosen, a university spokeswoman, would not comment on whether the previous executive director, Virginia Roach, was still employed by the school in another capacity. The university does not comment on personnel matters, she said. Roach did not return calls seeking comment.

Throughout the turmoil, CTY officials had attributed problems to staffing shortages — a national issue — and on Sunday apologized to families who had packed suitcases and planned their summers around the academic sessions, many of which were residential and set up at colleges across the country.

The cancellations were so late that some students were en route — or had arrived — from other parts of the country and world.

In all, 1,784 students were affected by program cancellations for the two sessions of the CTY programs, which claim alumni including Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and pop superstar Lady Gaga, officials said. That number is about a third of the total, with some 3,500 students still participating in in-person programs, according to the university.

Johns Hopkins program canceled as some students are en route

Kumar acknowledged that the decision to cancel and its last-minute nature “resulted in many disappointed students and significantly inconvenienced families.” Families were notified at roughly 3:30 p.m. last Friday, for a program that opened Sunday morning.

“In its first summer of in-person programming since the onset of the pandemic, it is clear to us that CTY has not met Johns Hopkins University’s standards,” Kumar said.

For parents including Mason Kalfus, who had signed his son up for a $5,200 residential philosophy program, the need for a leadership change was beyond question.

“I can’t imagine anyone that had such a monumental failure would keep the same leadership,” he said. But Kalfus also said the university had been repeatedly pointing to the national labor shortage — which was clearly not the full story. “It’s mind-boggling to me that they fell so amazingly short of what they needed,” he said. “Someone was asleep at the wheel.”

Sunny Chanel, whose 16-year-old daughter was headed to the program on a plane when she received an email saying it was canceled, said she hoped the move would bode well for the future of CTY.

“This change, with someone who knows the program, is a good one,” said Chanel, who lives in San Francisco. “It’s such a wonderful program, and it’s helped so many kids. I hope that will be key to getting them back on track and getting them back to where they were before.”

Since the weekend, parents have shared stories of disappointment and disbelief, some of them posted on a Facebook page with more than 500 members called “CTY screwed us 2022.”

Some instructors and staff members have also posted about the dispiriting confusion and other issues in this year’s program. Teachers are paid $2,500 for a three-week session, plus room and board, and assistants get $1,600 plus room and board, officials said.

Students must test into the CTY programs, which are a mix of online, commuter and residential sessions for second-to-12th-graders. Programs were canceled across a variety of topics, including biotechnology, poetry, ethics, psychology, genetics, neuroscience, engineering, the graphic novel and zoology.

Roach, the leader who was replaced, became executive director of the program in 2020. Hopkins described her as having “a formidable track record as a nonprofit leader and higher education administrator.” From 2015 to 2020, she served as dean at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. Earlier in her career, she was a professor of education and a department chair at George Washington University.