The acrimony around Donald Astrab's brief, fiery time as president of Nassau Community College won't make finding a new president any easier. Still, it's imperative that the search committee hires someone who'll continue Astrab's fiscal vigilance, but be better at building consensus.
Anyone smart enough to be considered for the job will also be smart enough to do some research on Nassau. Even the most cursory check will reveal that Astrab was the target of not one, but two votes of no confidence, one by the academic senate and one by the fiercely proud full-time faculty. The research would also show that the previous chairman of the board resigned, facing accusations of an affordable housing kickback scam in New York.
So it's been a turbulent time for the state's largest single-campus community college, second only to multi-campus Suffolk County Community College in total students.
Astrab took the job in November 2009 and resigned at the end of July this year. His executive vice president, Kenneth Saunders, became "officer in charge." Now the college's board of trustees is asking the State University of New York's board to name him acting president, a title that would allow him to be a candidate for the full-time job, if he wants to pursue it.
Though Astrab began the painful process of cutting costs to make the budget work, the new president will have to do more of the same. But the search committee must choose someone who is also a skilled communicator. Faculty members felt Astrab was an imperial president; he looked at them as an imperial faculty, too accustomed to getting their own way.
Right now, Nassau lacks not only a permanent president, but a permanent academic vice president. That makes this interim period tough for Saunders, but he'll have to be as decisive as his temporary status allows. And the search committee will have to cast a wide net to find someone not intimidated by the academic warfare, but invigorated by the challenge.
When so many need a community college to get new skills in a tough job market, it's time this campus got past battling and pivoted back to excelling.