For Dowling students, consternation and worry

Students walk through the Dowling College campus in

Students walk through the Dowling College campus in Oakdale. (Sept. 27, 2012) (Credit: Chris Ware)

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Rebecca Goldstein and John Monaco were rushing to class at Dowling College's Oakdale campus Thursday afternoon when they heard the news that president Jeremy Brown is on his way out.

Both expressed consternation and worry.

"What are they trying to say about the stability of the college?" said Goldstein, 24, a graduate student who is studying special education. "What is the end result?"

The Levittown resident said she lost her job as a graduate assistant two weeks ago, and talked about a string of faculty and staff layoffs at the college.

"I don't know if I'll be able to finish my degree here," she said.

Monaco, 59, of Lake Grove, a war veteran who is starting his junior year, was nonplussed.

"I don't know why he's leaving," he said.

Brown was the fourth president in the past six years at Dowling, a private liberal arts school which ran a budget deficit of $977,000 in 2011 and is almost $60 million in debt, school officials said in a Newsday story published earlier this month.

"The board believes this decision is in the best interest of the students, faculty and staff of the college, and we thank Dr. Brown for his service and leadership," Michael Puorro, chairman of the Dowling College board of trustees, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The board is discussing interim leadership for the college, and is expected to make an announcement on this matter in subsequent days."

Through the day Thursday, as word percolated that change at the top of the college's hierarchy was imminent, students walked to classes, talked while eating in the cafeteria in the Racanelli Learning Resources Center and jogged on the grounds -- the usual activities of a fall-semester day.

In the administrative offices, the president, academic deans and other administrative personnel either were not available for comment or declined to comment. A secretary in Brown's office said in late morning and at midday that the president was in meetings. At 3 p.m., the door to Brown's office was closed and locked.

One longtime faculty member who asked not to be named said an e-mail with a report that Brown would not remain as president had circulated among faculty on Wednesday night.

Senior Shawn Williams, 22, who was interviewed before the news of Brown's departure was made public, said he has noticed changes among the education department faculty.

"I've seen the school completely change from when I first got here," said Williams, of Levittown. "Now, it's like all the teachers are upset, the morale here has gone really low and it's almost a downer to be here."

He added: "It's like they have too much stress with all of the politics that are going on in the school."

But Amanda Rush, 23, a senior majoring in creative writing, was positive about her experiences at Dowling, saying, "My second family is here on this campus."

"I haven't noticed a decline in the caliber of teaching and education that I get when I'm on campus," said Rush, of Ronkonkoma, who is pursuing a minor in marketing.

So far this semester, she said, "almost every single one of my professors here offered to stay after class if I have any questions or need help on an assignment."

Rush, who said she is involved in student activities, said student clubs have viewed budget constraints as a challenge and have increased fundraising efforts.

"My father went here 20 years ago and he loved Dowling, and I love Dowling," she said. "So I have faith that Dowling will continue to be a great place for students."

Monaco, the military veteran, had compliments for Dowling's faculty and high praise for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides a free education to veterans.

"The teachers are excellent," he said. "I am very happy."

Tom Cleary, 29, a junior from Port Jefferson Station, was surprised by news that Brown will be leaving.

"It sounds like the school is not going in the right direction," Cleary said. "I hope it will pick up soon."

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