Dr. Kenneth Saunders, Ph.D., is pictured during a Nassau Community...

Dr. Kenneth Saunders, Ph.D., is pictured during a Nassau Community College Board of Trustees meeting. (Oct. 10, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

The acting president of Nassau Community College, who is not among three finalists chosen by a presidential selection committee for the permanent leadership post, said he was denied a fair interview by the panel.

Kenneth Saunders, an NCC administrator for 14 years, called the process "unfair" and alleged that some members of the 12-person committee held an obvious bias against him.

"It was the most caustic interview experience I've ever had," Saunders said. "They were not questions, but accusatory statements directed at me."

He would not give specifics regarding his descriptions of unfairness and bias.

Saunders' anger is the latest in a string of flare-ups at the Garden City institution over whether the process to choose the 23,550-student school's next leader has been impartial.

Trustee Anthony Cornachio, head of the search committee, rebutted Saunders' charge.

"No candidate was treated differently," Cornachio said. "Everyone was asked the same questions in the same tone of voice by the same people."


3 contenders for president

The finalists are Joyce Ester, 47, of Chicago, president of Kennedy-King College, one of seven entities within the City Colleges of Chicago; State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano, 70, of Valley Stream; and Elana Zolfo, 63, of Smithtown, interim president of Dowling College in Oakdale.

"The committee feels that each of the people selected are competent to run this institution," said Cornachio, whose leadership of the selection process has come under fire. "The trustees may agree or they may not agree."

A majority vote by the board of trustees is needed before the finalists advance to a second round of interviews, university officials said. NCC trustees have said they hope to have a new president by June. The selection committee conducted interviews with 10 semifinalists over a three-day period beginning April 19.

The presidential search is expected to be discussed at Tuesday night's board meeting.

Forty-five people from across the country had expressed interest in the job. Nassau Community College is the largest single-campus community college in the state.

Saunders, 56, was tapped to lead the school on an interim basis following the August 2012 departure of former president Donald Astrab, who was the college's president for 30 months. As acting president, Saunders' annual salary was raised $10,000, to $225,000, and he was allowed to live in the president's house on campus.

He was the college's executive vice president before trustees appointed him officer in charge upon Astrab's departure and then as acting president -- an elevation approved by SUNY officials.


Panel's fairness questioned

Other individuals and campus groups have questioned the selection committee's fairness and inclusiveness.

NCC student government president Logan Kenney, a member of the selection committee, said the candidate interviews were scheduled during class time, which kept her out of the decision-making.

"Ultimately, I was told that either I skip my classes or I don't go to the interviews," said Kenney, 19, of Long Beach.

Kenney, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, also is the school's valedictorian.

"I didn't like that I was the easy casualty," she said. "I represent the students in this process, and the students are everything to the school."

ALANA, a campus group representing minority faculty, staff and students, called for Cornachio's resignation as head of the search committee after it was revealed he sent an email message to other board members containing language that some people at the college perceived as sexist and racist.




Joyce Ester, 47, of Chicago, president of Kennedy-King College. Ester has worked more than 20 years in higher education, focusing on student support, from financial aid to programs for disabled students. She was selected to lead Kennedy-King, one of seven entities of the City Colleges of Chicago, in fall 2011. As associate vice president for student services at Bakersfield College in California, one of at least four colleges where she has worked, Ester founded the Veterans Resource Center to provide information about benefits and help ease veterans' transition to college. She also taught American Sign Language as an adjunct professor at Santa Barbara City College.

Anthony Marano, 70, of Valley Stream, State Supreme Court justice. As Nassau courts' top administrative judge, he oversaw training of court personnel to handle foreclosure cases and set up procedures to protect homeowners' rights. He supervised creation of the Nassau Domestic Violence Court and developed the state's first program to encourage parents in contentious custody cases to seek intervention from mental health professionals before litigating. He stepped down as administrative judge this year at the mandatory retirement age of 70 but has been authorized to stay on as a judge.

Elana Zolfo, 63, of Smithtown, interim president of Dowling College. In 19 years at the Oakdale college, she expanded work-site degree programs at major companies, from Federal Express to Estee Lauder, and developed opportunities for international students and American students abroad. She has held key posts on several business groups, including the Hauppauge Industrial Association and the Suffolk County Women's Business Enterprise Coalition. She has been active in fundraising for students' tuition, breast cancer research and other causes.

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