There no longer can be any doubt that the board of trustees of Nassau Community College has failed the school in every way.
That’s the most important lesson from the absolutely devastating report from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a peer accrediting organization. The two-year college, the largest single-campus community college in New York, couldn’t pass seven of 14 quality benchmarks. The assessment found that NCC has an “ineffective and distrustful system of governance.”
The school even failed to meet Middle States’ standard of integrity. Such a finding stems from political intrusion into its hiring practices, with the commission specifically citing the board’s subterfuge used to award one of the college’s top jobs to former Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and for compromising a recent presidential search.
NCC students should be furious, they have the most to lose if financial aid is taken away or their future degrees are tarnished. The Academic Senate, whose gamesmanship and constant sabotaging of the administration contributed to the negative findings, should be deeply embarrassed. And those among the trustees who are responsible for all the turmoil would best serve the college by resigning.
The key to turning NCC around is leadership. Thomas P. Dolan, the interim president installed by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, has done a laudable job holding the place together. He said the school can remedy its accreditation problems if everyone is “committed and willing.” That’s a high bar when self-interest is what motivates most of the key actors. A remedial plan must be submitted by the end of the month, and that will be the first test of whether the school can save itself.
Middle States is scheduled to vote June 23 on whether to issue a warning to the school, or worse, to put it on probation if the remedial plan doesn’t address the problems with any urgency.
To avoid such a calamity, NCC must convince the accrediting agency that it has made it a priority to find a permanent president and has a credible way to accomplish that goal. The Middle States report says the “... administrators, faculty, and the board of trustees all share a common hope that the next President will prove to be a transformational leader that the campus desperately needs.”
However, the next paragraph, just one sentence, sums up just how hard that will be to do. “The climate on campus is hostile and uncivil,” it stated.
The school has been without a permanent president since 2012, and there have been three failed searches to find one. The trustees simply cannot do a credible job. The board should pass a resolution requesting SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to take over the task of appointing a search committee. The NCC board would then choose from among candidates the SUNY committee deems qualified. The NCC board would sent its recommendation to Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees for final approval.
NCC won’t turn around until an extraordinary new leader is chosen. And it won’t be able to attract anyone of that caliber unless there is a radical change in the search process.