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Jeremy Brown out as Dowling College president

Dowling College president Jeremy Brown. (April 17, 2012)

Dowling College president Jeremy Brown. (April 17, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz

Dowling College president Jeremy Brown is being removed from his job, as the financially strapped college struggles with declining enrollment and high debt.

Brown, who took the post in June 2011, is negotiating a settlement with the board of trustees, chairman Michael Puorro said in a brief statement Thursday. His contract expires in July 2014.

Brown could not be reached for comment. He is the college's fourth president in six years.

The private liberal arts school, with its picturesque main campus in Oakdale, ran a budget deficit of $977,000 in 2011 and is almost $60 million in debt, school officials said in a Newsday story earlier this month.

"The board believes this decision is in the best interest of the students, faculty and staff of the college, and we thank Dr. Brown for his service and leadership," Puorro's statement said. "The board is discussing interim leadership for the college, and is expected to make an announcement on this matter in subsequent days."

The college would not release Brown's salary. In an earlier interview with Newsday, he would not give it.

Years of steep enrollment losses, mounting debt, a small endowment and a poor borrowing rating have put a severe strain on the college, records and interviews reveal.

Many of those problems were in evidence during board member and donor Scott Rudolph's tenure as interim president, immediately preceding Brown. Rudolph set in motion changes that make it easier to remove the college's president. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Moody's Investors Service twice downgraded the college's already junk-rated debt in 2011 because of dropping enrollment and deteriorating finances. There were 3,377 full-time equivalent students in the fall of 2011 -- 1,058 less than two years earlier, according to Moody's.

The tumult has led to the hiring and firing of key staff and a lack of continuity in planning that has filtered down to academic programs, sources have said.

Martin Cantor was let go from Dowling in the summer of 2011 when it axed the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute. Thursday, he called the college "a great school," but said "you can't cut your way to prosperity."

"If you look at every successful college and university on Long Island, there has been consistency in the presidency," he said. "I'm sad for the college. Dowling deserves better . . . and so do the students."

Rebecca Goldstein, 24, of Levittown, said she likes the school but the instability concerns her.

She lost her job as a graduate assistant at the college two weeks ago, she said, and talked of other layoffs, adding, "I don't know if I'll be able to finish my degree here."

Senior Shawn Williams, 22, of Levittown, said faculty and staff morale has nosedived during his time there.

"I've seen the school completely change from when I first got here," Williams said. "Now, it's like all the teachers are upset. It's almost a downer to be here."

Brown, former president of Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, expressed confidence in a recent Newsday story that he could put the college back on course. "I knew it was a turnaround situation and I love a challenge," he said. "Finances have been tough."

Nathalia Rogers, chair of the full-time faculty, expressed optimism even after learning of Brown's removal. "We feel confident in the college's success," she said. "The college will succeed."

Once affiliated with then-Adelphi College, Dowling became independent in 1968, with schools of business, education, arts and science, and aviation.

It has churned out scores of teachers, but even that "hallmark" program has shrunk as the demand for educators has declined.

Interim provost Elana Zolfo would not discuss Brown's departure, but said from her office on the Oakdale campus: "My only comment is we love this college. We love what we do here."

With Kathleen Kerr,

Lauren R. Harrison, Ted Phillips and Olivia Winslow

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