NCC trustees accept president's resignation

Donald P. Astrab, president of Nassau Community College,

Donald P. Astrab, president of Nassau Community College, in a February 2011 file photo. (Credit: Handout)

Nassau Community College president Donald Astrab resigned Monday after reaching a compensation agreement with the board of trustees worth more than $337,000 in salary, health insurance and accrued vacation and sick time.

The resignation capped a tumultuous year that included two no-confidence votes from faculty. More than 100 people, many of them professors at the 23,000-student college, packed the meeting room for the trustees' special 7 a.m. meeting. The board voted 7-1 to accept Astrab's resignation.

Board chairman Geoffrey Prime said the college's next leader should seek to build consensus, which Astrab's critics said he had not done.

Astrab, who was named president in late 2009, officially assumed the office in February 2010, taking over from NCC's longtime leader, Sean Fanelli. The community college has faced a budget squeeze that last year led to layoffs of 40 full-time faculty positions and some temporary jobs.

The separation agreement calls for paying Astrab's salary and benefits for 15 months: his annual salary of $230,000 plus $57,500; health insurance for him and his family through November 2013, worth an estimated $25,000; and unused vacation and sick days worth $24,894, according to college spokesman Chuck Cutolo.

Astrab was not at the meeting. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The board unanimously elevated Kenneth Saunders, the college's executive vice president, as "officer in charge" effective Tuesday.

Saunders, 55, of Freeport, who has been at NCC for 13 years, becomes the college's first African-American leader. He has not been designated interim or acting president, a title officials said requires approval from State University of New York trustees and could come later.

The crowd applauded when Saunders thanked the board for the opportunity to "be a part of the transition of Nassau Community College, as we work as a collective to bring things back to a state where we were, where we're functioning collegially with one another." He talked of the need for "shared governance," alluding to the interaction between faculty and the administration.

Saunders' pay rises to $215,000 from $175,000. He holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania, a master's of education from Howard University and a bachelor's in psychology and German from Bowling Green State University. He also attended Harvard University's Institute of Education Management in 2006. Before coming to NCC, he worked at SUNY College at Old Westbury.

The board named Maria Conzatti, who had been vice president of academic student services, as acting executive vice president at a salary of $180,000.

College officials said they do not have a timetable for their search for a new president. By statute, the college must appoint an interim or acting president and establish a search committee. SUNY will provide a liaison to the college's search committee, SUNY spokesman David Doyle said.

Saunders said he has not decided whether he would be a candidate for the presidency.

The sole dissenting vote on Astrab's resignation came from Anthony Cornachio.

He later said he was against the extension of salary payments for three months beyond the termination clause in Astrab's five-year contract, calling it a "hefty sum. It's not my money; it's not the other trustees' money. It's the public's money."

He supported Astrab's resignation, saying, "There are some people who thrive on adversity, thrive on causing unhappiness. He was that."

After the meeting, Prime said the settlement sought to prevent potential litigation in giving Astrab additional salary and health coverage.

The board's decision, he said, "was not a reflection of Dr. Astrab personally, just a recognition that the college needed to move forward."

He added in an interview, "We certainly wish Dr. Astrab the best in the future. I want to make that clear."For NCC's next president, Prime said the board will look for "someone who recognizes the value of shared governance on campus, and that can balance that with the fiscal responsibilities needed in running the college in these financial times."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano could not be reached for comment, his office said.

Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), the legislature's presiding officer, said through a spokesman, "I'm sorry to see Mr. Astrab go. He was a fine addition to the college."

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), minority leader, said, "Mr. Astrab faced a difficult situation and took on many entrenched interests in trying to change the culture at the community college."

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said she would not characterize the agreement as a "golden parachute."

"It seems to me that this separation agreement is in line with the board of trustees and Dr. Astrab wishing to amicably resolve their differences" and avoid "costly litigation," she said in an email.

Faculty representatives welcomed Astrab's resignation.

Kimberley Reiser, chair of the college's academic senate, and Debra DeSanto, president of the Federation of Teachers full-time faculty union, said Astrab's adversarial relationship with faculty affected the college's quality.

Astrab did have some support from a few faculty and others at the meeting.

Denise Gunn, president of the college's CSEA union, representing about 500 mostly clerical workers, called Astrab's ouster a "disgrace," saying she declined to back the faculty union's criticisms of him.

Separation agreement

Employment agreement

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