NCC trustees vote to disband presidential search committee

NCC Acting President Kenneth K. Saunders, right, addresses NCC Acting President Kenneth K. Saunders, right, addresses faculty members during a Nassau Community College Trustees meeting. The trustees met for the first time since the Adjunct Facility Association staged its first strike in 31 years after board members voted against a proposed 8-year contract. Trustees also announced they would begin a new presidential search after the last search yielded no viable candidates. (Sept.17, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Nassau Community College trustees approved a resolution disbanding the committee created last year to hire a new college president -- ending a search fraught with controversy, yet still leaving the Garden City institution without a permanent leader.

The college's board voted 6-2 during the public session of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Tuesday night. Trustee John deGrace abstained, and the student trustee was not present.

"We want this to move forward. There are many great things to happen at NCC," said Dr. Jorge Gardyn, chairman of the board, of dissolving the search committee.

A new committee will be formed, but the timeline for that is unclear, officials said.

Trustee Anthony Cornachio, head of the 12-person presidential search committee created last December, said he was not sure whether he would be able to volunteer more time for a new search committee.

"If you want to add to the committee -- fine. But to take all this time away from people who have devoted their time and have the experience on the search committee I am not in favor of," he said.

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The vote comes a week after a four-day strike by the 3,000-member adjunct faculty union over pay raises that canceled some classes and forced a court injunction. The adjuncts -- as the part-time professors are called -- suspended their strike Friday and are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Wednesday with the college administration.

The resolution passed Tuesday night formally discharged the members of the presidential search committee and "extended the heartfelt thanks of the board of trustees on its diligent work on behalf of the college." The dissenting votes came from Cornachio and Edward Powers.

In April, members of ALANA, the campus group representing faculty, staff and students who are members of racial minorities, charged Cornachio with excluding them from the search process.

About a month later, acting college president Kenneth Saunders, a longtime administrator at the school who was not among three finalists selected by the search committee, told Newsday that he was treated unfairly during his interview and alleged that the committee was biased.

The allegations from ALANA and Saunders, who is black, soon created a racial divide on campus.

In May, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher asked the college to suspend the search, calling for an investigation. Two days later, after the resignation of board chairman Geoffrey Prime, the chancellor's office said the integrity of the search was "beyond the point of repair" and a new search should be launched.

The search committee and trustees defied the chancellor's office and unsuccessfully tried to advance two finalists, bringing them in for campus interviews last month. They were Elana Zolfo, 63, of Smithtown, former interim president of Dowling College; and Joyce Ester, 48, of Chicago, president of Kennedy-King College, part of the Chicago city college system.

A third candidate, State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano, 70, of Valley Stream, withdrew his name from consideration for the job in June.

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In August, the trustees voted not to affirm either of the remaining finalists.

NCC, the largest single-campus community college in the state university system, has been without stable leadership since the board voted to remove president Donald Astrab in July 2012.

Astrab came to NCC from Brevard Community College in Florida. During his 30 months as president of NCC, the faculty twice voted no confidence in him. Astrab will continue to receive a $230,000 salary from the college until November, according to his separation agreement.

The college's $214 million operating budget is funded primarily through student tuition and county and state aid.

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