Editorial: A daunting task at Dowling College for Elana Zolfo

Elana Zolfo has been named the new interim Elana Zolfo has been named the new interim president of Dowling College; she most recently held the position of interim provost and Vice President for Corporate Programs/Continuing Education. (August 2011) Photo Credit: Handout

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A new college president's arrival is usually about high hopes, pomp and circumstance. But getting named to run Dowling College these days has to feel a bit like a scary medical diagnosis. And that's a shame.

Our region has powerhouse universities such as Stony Brook and Hofstra, two giant community colleges, four-year State University of New York campuses at Farmingdale and Old Westbury, and an array of private colleges. So it's not easy for Dowling, whose main campus is in Oakdale, to create a distinctive niche -- even in calm times. But the college has had precious little calm recently.

Its board has named Elana Zolfo, a Dowling veteran who served as an interim provost, to be the interim president. She takes up that weighty job at a moment when Dowling is drowning in $60 million in debt -- and reeling from rapid-fire leadership changes.

Its most recent president, Jeremy Brown, took the job last year, knowing it was a "turnaround" project. Then Dowling's board turned around and nudged him out.

So Zolfo faces the daunting task of reassuring faculty and students that she can end the debilitating game of academic musical chairs, stop the fiscal bleeding, reverse the enrollment losses and revive what a faculty report called "a ghost town."

If Dowling is to survive, it needs stability and a long-term plan. Zolfo knows its strengths and weaknesses, and she'll have to start that revival -- fast.

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