Nassau Community College has less than 10 days to respond to a scathing assessment of its governance and operations released last week by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
That makes a sense of urgency necessary.
But the college ought not be the only agency working toward resolving serious issues that could end up imperiling the school, and more importantly, its students.
It’s time for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, the county legislature and the State University of New York board to make bold moves.
Cuomo, Mangano and Nassau County lawmakers should nominate two strong candidates to replace two college trustees whose terms expired in 2014 and 2015.
Over the years, the NCC board has included a former U.S. congressman, John LeBoutillier, a Republican who served one term; a labor leader, John Durso, now president of the Long Island Federation of Labor; and James M. Large Jr., a banker, who before his retirement specialized in helping troubled institutions. After leaving the board, Large continued helping NCC by funding student scholarships.
If NCC is to recover, it needs an exceptional governing body.
Three new trustees, including a new student-elected representative, who can act with independence and authority on behalf of the college and its students, would be a start.
But that’s not enough.
The Middle States visiting committee expressed concern about the board’s surprise move in December to hire former Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray to a $151,000 job as NCC’s acting general counsel — despite the fact that she had never expressed an interest in the position to college officials.
Except, of course, that the move really wasn’t a bolt out of the blue.
Not when the majority of trustees voting to go against the college hiring policy were Republicans. In Nassau, the GOP proudly takes care of its own — as it did in this case with Murray, who would have been without a job as of Jan. 1 after losing a lopsided race for district attorney.
There’s no way to force those who voted for Murray to resign. Still, their votes ought to forfeit them any chance for reappointment. Otherwise, the college likely will see more of the same — from whatever political party is in power.
At this point, NCC — which is projecting enrollment decreases of 4.7 percent for 2016, and another 5 percent for 2017 — literally cannot afford more of what Middle States called “political intrusion into the college’s business.”
And what should SUNY’s role be?
In its report, Middle States requires that NCC “create a system of shared governance,” consistent with SUNY regulations.
In short, NCC has been tasked with untangling conflicts between NCC’s full-time faculty contract, Academic Senate bylaws, SUNY regulations and college policy. Interpretations of the documents, the committee said, over the past decade have served as “the source of confusion leading to the negative climate that now exists.”
SUNY can help clarify state regulations on leadership responsibilities.
But no new president can bring order to NCC until its governing system is fixed.