The stench from the rotten presidential search at Nassau Community College wafted very quickly to Albany. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher responded by ordering Geoffrey Prime, chair of the college's board of trustees, to suspend the search while he investigates allegations of racial bias and a flawed process.
Instead, he should just start over.
Clearly holding her nose, Zimpher made the proper bureaucratic move, telling Prime he must be able to attest to the integrity of the search committee's actions. But make no mistake: The chancellor is unhappy and unlikely to move forward with a nominee from this committee unless the controversy is resolved. That will be difficult.
Acting college president Kenneth Saunders, an administrator for 13 years who didn't make the list of three finalists, claims he was treated with hostility during his interview. Meanwhile, the student representative to the selection committee said the group would not accommodate her when she had classes during candidate interviews. Two other members also missed interviews, and as a result, only 12 of 15 members were eligible to vote on all of the finalists.
But there is an even more significant reason for starting over: The finalists are rather lackluster or politically tinged.
One of them, State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Murano, has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He has no training as an educator nor experience running an educational institution. He is, however, quite close to the leadership of the county's Republican party, which for decades has used the college as a source of patronage jobs and contracts. Democrats have tried to do that, too, but the GOP is especially deft at it.
A fresh start is clearly needed. The trustees should immediately dissolve this search panel and convene a new one -- preferably one without trustee Anthony Cornachio, and certainly not as its head. Cornachio, who is also tightly connected to the Nassau GOP, started the latest controversy by sending an inflammatory email about a minority organization upset because it wasn't represented on the search panel. In the email, Cornachio described a professor, writing, "that tall black guy is a thug . . ." And he wrote that a female member was "the youngest looking and very pretty."
Cornachio said the email wasn't meant to be racist or sexist. However, he already has a troubled history as a trustee. In 2010, Mary Adams, then board chair, and John LeBoutillier, the vice chair, wrote to then-Gov. David A. Paterson to say Cornachio was unfit to be reappointed. They claimed Cornachio had insulted the student body by describing it as made up of students who couldn't get in anywhere else. They also accused him of violating the confidentiality of the 2009 search to find a successor to Sean Fanelli, who was then retiring as president.
Paterson did reappoint Cornachio, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo may have the power to remove him before the trustee's term ends in 2017. And Cuomo has yet to fill another gubernatorial slot vacant for more than a year. Wednesday his office said it was moving rapidly to name a new trustee. It must find someone who can provide expert counsel and guidance.
The president's job starts at $225,000, and comes with very good benefits, including the use of a home on the Garden City campus. The college's 22,500 tuition-paying students, the taxpayers of Nassau County who send $52 million its way each year, and state taxpayers who kick in another $47 million deserve an outstanding educator and vibrant leader for this vital institution. As of now, they aren't even close to getting one.