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Nassau Community College lacking in 7 of 14 standards, accreditation review team says

The Nassau Community College campus in Garden City

The Nassau Community College campus in Garden City is shown on Friday, March 18, 2016. A review team for an independent accrediting agency has found the 22,000-student college to be lacking in stable leadership, integrity, planning and financial resources as well as other benchmarks used to determine if its accreditation is in good standing. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Nassau Community College is lacking in stable leadership, integrity, planning and financial resources as well as other benchmarks used to determine if its accreditation is in good standing, a review team from an independent agency has found.

A preliminary report this week by an eight-member team from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to NCC’s administrators and top faculty pointed to deficiencies at the Garden City institution in seven of 14 standards the commission utilizes, officials confirmed Friday.

The 22,000-student college’s accreditation by the nongovernmental commission could be in jeopardy — though not immediately — if the problems found by the review team are not resolved. Middle States gives institutions up to two years to correct areas of noncompliance.

Accreditation includes use of standards to gauge the quality of institutions. Losing it could put federal student aid programs at risk and affect everything from a school’s reputation to its enrollment to its budget.

Until any possible action the commission may take at its June 23 meeting, NCC’s accreditation status remains unchanged, Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass said Friday.

The team’s three-day, on-site visit ended with an oral report Wednesday to campus constituents, according to faculty leaders and an emailed memo that interim president Thomas Dolan sent to members of the board of trustees. Newsday obtained a copy of the email.

“We need stable leadership and a president who will lead the college out of this,” Evelyn Deluty, chairwoman of the college’s Academic Senate, said Friday. Deluty, a philosophy professor, was among the college faculty and officials who were present for the review team’s report. The Academic Senate is a leadership group made up of full-time faculty union members and delegates from the administration and student body.

It is the latest blow to a college that has been roiling for years with allegations of political patronage, a lack of transparency and a vocal faculty leadership that clashes with administrators on the governance, educational and budgetary priorities of the institution.

In recent years, there has been a prolonged search for the college’s next leader, a strike by part-time faculty that was the first in more than 30 years, votes of no-confidence in past and current leadership, and crowded, contentious board meetings.

In addition to less funding from state and local governments, NCC’s budget is further hindered by a $330 million post-retirement employee benefit liability.

The review team was led by Donald Generals, president of the Community College of Philadelphia. As is Middle States’ common practice, the group was made up of faculty and administrators from peer institutions — in this case, other community colleges, Deluty said.

NCC interim president Thomas Dolan, in response to questions on Thursday, acknowledged an email and called it “confidential.”

“It is the opinion of the college that the e-mail that you may have possession of is a confidential communication that was sent to the Board of Trustees only,” Dolan wrote in response to Newsday’s inquiries.

He declined to comment further.

Jorge Gardyn, chairman of NCC’s board, did not return calls Friday.

One major deficiency that Middle States’ reviewers found was under the standard labeled “Integrity.” Failing to comply with that standard could mean the college may be called upon to “show cause” as to why it should not immediately lose its accreditation.

It pointed to political influences at the college and potential conflicts of interest with regard to the hiring of Kate Murray, the former Town of Hempstead supervisor who began work there Jan. 1 in a media and governmental relations job.

NCC trustees voted in December to hire Murray, who was defeated by Madeline Singas in the November election for Nassau County district attorney, at an annual salary of $151,000. Murray did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Pokrass said it is premature to say what action the commission may take regarding NCC’s accreditation. All correspondence between the commission and its member institutions is confidential, he said.

“The evaluation team visit is only one part of the accreditation process,” Pokrass said.

Over the next few weeks, Generals will send a draft of his written report to NCC’s interim president — Dolan — for correction of any factual errors, Pokrass said. Generals then will present his team’s recommendations to the commission’s committee on evaluation reports.

“Typically, if the commission finds an institution out of compliance with the accreditation standards, it will place the institution on warning or probation, depending on the extent of the noncompliance,” Pokrass said.

NCC — the largest single-campus community college in New York’s public university system — is waiting for State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees to approve the person chosen by NCC trustees to become the school’s next president. The college’s trustees on March 3 sent the name of one of three finalists to recommend for SUNY approval.

“We take this preliminary report very seriously, and are working with the campus and its acting president to address comments made by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education,” SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis said Friday.

Brian Nevin, spokesman for Nassau County, which partially funds the college, said the county had not gotten official word of the review and declined to comment.

The school’s trustees have been searching for a replacement for former president Donald Astrab, who departed in July 2012 after 30 months on the job and two no-confidence votes against him by faculty. His salary was $230,000 annually.

NCC executive vice president Kenneth Saunders, who worked with Astrab, is among the three finalists for the post. He has been at the college for more than 14 years and was in the finalist pool twice at NCC since Astrab left.

This week, the Academic Senate and the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers, the college’s full-time faculty union, voted no confidence in the present and future leadership of Saunders.

The other two finalists for the presidency are Tyjaun A. Lee, 44, vice president of student services at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, and Stephen Schoonmaker, 57, former president of the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Arkansas.

NCC ‘not in compliance’

A review team from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education — an independent, nongovernmental accrediting body — found Nassau Community College to be “not in compliance” with seven of the 14 standards it uses to gauge the quality of institutions. According to the Middle States team leader’s oral report given to NCC administrators and top faculty, these are:

  • Planning, resource and institutional renewal
  • Institutional resources
  • Leadership and governance
  • Administration
  • Integrity
  • Institutional assessment
  • Assessment of student learning

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