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Dowling College trustees, alumni trying to save school

Dowling College's board of trustees and alumni association

Dowling College's board of trustees and alumni association on Friday separately announced efforts to try to keep the debt-ridden liberal arts school from closing. The college is shown on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, the day officials announced it would have to close. Credit: Johnny Milano

Dowling College trustees announced Friday they are back in negotiations with a British educational investment firm to create an academic partnership that would allow the liberal arts school to continue its operations, just as Dowling’s alumni association mounted a separate campaign to shore up the debt-ridden college’s finances.

Michael Puorro, chairman of the college’s board, told Newsday that trustees still are in “serious talks” with United Kingdom-based Global University Systems, an international network of postsecondary institutions.

If a deal is reached, he said, Dowling would not close and the firm would make a significant financial investment and supply students to the school.

Puorro and Dowling President Albert Inserra, in a joint telephone interview Friday afternoon, said the 48-year-old liberal arts school still is slated to close Wednesday.

“We will continue to work every minute, every hour, 24 hours a day to see this through in an effort to keep Dowling College Dowling College,” Puorro said. “But make no mistake about it — we understand what’s important to our student body and we will assist in their transition to other schools, if they so choose, for the sake of their educational future.”

Global University Systems is involved in schools around the world, from Vancouver to Singapore, according to Dowling officials, and “has a proven ability to turn around the fortunes of colleges buffeted by economic challenges.”

Puorro and Inserra declined to provide any details on the current talks, such as how much money the firm would invest; whether there is a timeline in place for the negotiations; how many students the firm would provide; and what might be delaying the deal.

“These are sensitive, multi-faceted negotiations, and that’s why we are being circumspect with the details,” Inserra said.

Puorro and Inserra said the college is working with its accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and state regulatory agencies, including the state Education Department.

With the Oakdale school saddled with $54 million in long-term debt and its reaccreditation in peril, Dowling officials were in talks with the company earlier this year. However, the firm’s identity had been kept confidential until last week, when Newsday reported that Dowling was teetering on the brink of closure. At that time, the newspaper sought comment from Global University Systems, but calls and emails were not returned.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dowling said it would close after failed efforts to raise money and secure an investing academic partnership.

The sudden announcement sent about 1,700 students hustling to acquire their academic records and figure out how to continue their educations, with Molloy College in Rockville Centre designated to coordinate a “teach-out” plan for the displaced students. The college’s employees were told not to report to work after Thursday, and that their pay and benefits would cease as of that day.

The college initially had said it would close on Friday. Then, a notice posted on the Dowling website Thursday said that trustees had “extended the potential closing date until Wednesday, June 8,” and said students could get their official transcripts at the Oakdale campus through that date, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The alumni association, in its own effort to salvage the school, announced Friday morning that it is in negotiations with a “substantial entity” that would be in a position to donate money to help pay down Dowling’s debt. The “entity” was not named.

“We are dedicated to turning the page on the college’s history,” said Frank Corso Jr., the association’s president. “We will have a real cohesive plan with financial backing to help get this college on a sound financial path.”

As part of the effort to bolster the college’s finances, the association said it has seven individuals willing to serve on the school’s board of trustees.

Corso said those potential board members would commit money immediately to help the college pay down its debt, which was a factor in the school’s decision this week to close.

It was not clear how much money those individuals would be willing to commit. In addition, it was unclear whether those seven would replace current board members or join the existing board. It also was not clear how they would join the board.

Puorro on Friday afternoon said he welcomes any effort by Corso and the alumni association.

The seven individuals proposed as immediate board members by the alumni association are John F. Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission; David R. Bobbitt, president of the SCORE Foundation; Michael Hynes, Patchogue-Medford school district superintendent; Frank Pelliccione, vice president of Flushing Bank; attorney Andrew Thaler of Westbury; Nicholas Marino, managing director of Cart-Tops; and Bill M. Faggiano of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Garden City.

“While there has been significant effort made to overcome the challenges facing Dowling College, we believe there is more that can be done to provide a path forward other than closing the school,” Corso said. “We look forward to working with the administration and other stakeholders to forge a new future for Dowling College.”

Corso said the alumni association will launch a website aimed at raising funds to save the school.

“We want to be a resource for the current administration and do everything we can to help save our beloved college,” he said.

Corso said he wrote a letter to Inserra offering an “infusion of new ideas” to help the college remain open.

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