Nassau Community College trustees Thursday night voted unanimously to appoint an interim president to replace acting president Kenneth Saunders as they continue to seek a permanent leader for the school.

The interim administrator would not be an eligible candidate in the presidential search, trustees said.

It was unclear whether an interim leader would be someone selected from a list of people approved by the State University of New York to lead a college during a crisis or someone trustees agree to appoint from elsewhere.

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"We need to get someone in place prior to September," said Jorge Gardyn, the board chairman, at a special meeting held on campus. "It is paramount to the success of our students."

The 23,000-student school -- the largest single-campus community college in the state -- is still no closer to hiring a president despite having launched two searches to fill the post in the last three years.

Some 75 faculty members and staff watched Thursday night as trustees engaged in a heated discussion about how to respond to a state deadline of Aug. 16, when Saunders will stop serving as acting president.

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During talks about the process of finding an interim president, trustees voted to go into executive session, citing details pertaining to the appointment and employment at the college.

Trustees have scheduled another special meeting for Aug. 19, when they intend to announce the interim president.

NCC faculty leaders had been calling for an interim president who is ineligible to be a candidate in the presidential search, saying it was a conflict of interest for Saunders to be a candidate while he was acting president of the college.

"We hope the interim person will be an external person," said Evelyn Deluty, chairwoman of the NCC Academic Senate, which represents a majority of the full-time faculty, staff and some students on campus.

SUNY officials last month recommended a 60-day limit for Saunders to remain acting president. The move was intended to encourage NCC trustees to take action on selecting a president.

Saunders, 58, a longtime NCC administrator, has led the college since the abrupt departure of former president Donald Astrab in July 2012.

He was appointed officer-in-charge and then elevated to acting president. His salary is $225,000.

Astrab was NCC president for less than three years and received two votes of no confidence from the college's Academic Senate.

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The school has conducted two failed presidential searches in which Saunders was a candidate.

The first search was so fraught with allegations of bias that SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher had to intervene with a request that trustees start a new one.

NCC trustees this spring were unable to agree on a finalist after a second search. Trustees were split between selecting Saunders and Roger Ramsammy, 55, provost and chief academic officer of Northern Virginia Community College, Manassas Campus and Innovation Center.

Any president selected to run the college must gain the approval of Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees.