The state university system's senior vice chancellor for community colleges told Nassau Community College trustees Thursday night to "move forward" with a new search for their next president, firmly reiterating the SUNY chancellor's call earlier this month.
"The decision has been made by the chancellor and she doesn't make these decisions lightly," said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the SUNY official, of Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.
More than 100 faculty, staff and some students packed the on-campus public meeting. The trustees took no action.
The gathering, which turned tense at times, was split, with a majority of the eight-member board of trustees questioning Duncan-Poitier and accusing Zimpher of overstepping her authority.
Several trustees implored the vice chancellor to show evidence supporting a new search based on allegations that one concluding earlier this month was biased and improper. They want the current search to move forward and contend Zimpher is overstepping her authority.
"We did nothing wrong," said trustee Anthony Cornachio, head of the search committee. "The inquiry went in a way that was not satisfactory to SUNY, so they stepped in."
Cornachio and others, including members of the search committee, asked SUNY to respect the community college's home rule. They said they never had the opportunity to prove the integrity of their search process.
Zimpher, whose approval is needed to install any new president at NCC, has said she would not support a candidate coming out of the current search.
Duncan-Poitier said she and Zimpher believe the search is beyond the point of repair.
She said the abrupt resignation of former NCC board chairman Geoffrey Prime contributed to their decision to request the search be aborted.
Deborah DeSanto, president of the college's full-time faculty union, spoke at the meeting, saying she "was hoping that someone would listen" but felt that didn't happen.
She and two other faculty representatives said they stand by the search, saying the college's autonomy and the search committee's integrity was at risk.
Zimpher's actions on NCC gained the full support of 17 SUNY trustees this week. At its Tuesday meeting in Manhattan, the SUNY board unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the board of trustees "to work with the chancellor and her representative to start a new search process to bring an appropriate final candidate to the Chancellor and this Board."
The search for a new NCC president has been besieged with controversy for months, beginning earlier this year with a campus group representing minority faculty, staff and students contending the 15-person search committee lacked adequate racial diversity. The group, known as ALANA, called for Cornachio to resign. It claimed he used racist and sexist terms in an email.
ALANA president Anissa Moore applauded the chancellor's recommendation.
The divide became more apparent when three finalists were announced earlier this month and the field did not include Kenneth Saunders, the school's current acting president and a 14-year administrator at NCC. Saunders claimed search committee members had a bias against him.Some people speaking at the previous public meeting said they believe Saunders should not be a candidate in the search if he is acting president, citing a SUNY guideline. SUNY officials say the acting presidents at other colleges often apply for the permanent president's post.
Three finalists announced were: Joyce Ester, 47, of Chicago, president of Kennedy-King College, one of seven entities within the City Colleges of Chicago; State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano, 70, of Valley Stream; and Elana Zolfo, 63, of Smithtown, the former interim president of Dowling College in Oakdale.