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NCC board hits impasse in president search

Jorge Gardyn, acting chairperson, and Kenneth Saunders, acting

Jorge Gardyn, acting chairperson, and Kenneth Saunders, acting president, listen as a professor speaks during a special meeting of the Board of Trustees. (May 16, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A standoff between two sides of the governing board at Nassau Community College has prolonged the search for the school's new president and the discontent among campus leaders, faculty and students.

The eight members of the college's board of trustees are at an impasse over a SUNY request from Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who wants them to restart the search process following allegations of bias and impropriety.

Five trustees voted against a resolution to scrap the current search at a special meeting of the board Thursday night. But six votes are needed -- the majority of the 10 seats on the board -- to reject a resolution to suspend the search or to approve a continuation. The board has two vacant seats.

"I was very disappointed that the board did not make a decision," said Kimberley Reiser, a biology professor and outgoing chairwoman of the college's Academic Senate, which represents faculty, staff and students.

The nearly nine-month-long search to replace the college's former president, Donald Astrab, has been fraught with political infighting, dividing the campus -- sometimes racially. A group of minority faculty and staff have said they were shut out of the selection process and called for the resignation of the trustee in charge of the search. Then the school's acting president, who is black, claimed he was treated unfairly in the interview process. Leaders of three faculty organizations who sat on the 12-member search committee, including Reiser, attested to the integrity of the selection process. They and others say SUNY's intervention is a threat to the college's autonomy.

Criminal justice professor Robert Hodge Jr., an executive board member of the minority campus group ALANA, said he was unhappy the board "didn't just do what the chancellor has asked."

"I think we might be stuck until the governor appoints two new board members, and that could mean all summer, and a new search won't happen until September," Hodge said.

The trustees vote came after nearly 3 1/2 hours in a closed-door executive session Thursday, as about 150 people waited in the meeting room inside the Tower building on the Garden City campus.

Trustees John P. Donnelly, Mary A. Adams and acting board chairman Dr. Jorge L. Gardyn voted to undertake a new search. Trustees Anthony Cornachio, Edward W. Powers, Arnold W. Drucker, Faruque Amin and John A. DeGrace voted to proceed.

"I have been informed that responses are forthcoming to the chancellor's office from various groups on campus expressing opinions," Gardyn said in a prepared statement. "The board of trustees will await the chancellor's response to these recent communications."

Gardyn would not elaborate on the content of the letters to the chancellor's office. Cornachio said the search committee and trustees who were not involved in the presidential hiring process were drafting letters defending the fairness of their work.

In her call to redo the search, Zimpher said Tuesday that she was appointing a state lawyer to oversee the new search and advised the college to hire a new consultant. The chancellor has no direct control of the college's board of trustees or its actions, she has already stated she would block any nominee for the president's post unless the search begins anew. NCC is the largest, single-campus community college in the state university system.

"The SUNY board, on the recommendation of the chancellor, is the ultimate authority here," David Doyle, Zimpher's spokesman, said Friday. "She will not recommend a candidate from this search. SUNY administration will continue to work with the NCC board and the campus community on next steps."

The selection committee, after receiving 45 applications, and narrowing the field of candidates to 10, picked three finalists: a president of a Chicago city college, the interim president of Dowling College in Oakdale, and a Nassau administrative judge.

NCC acting president Kenneth Saunders, a 14-year administrator at the school, was not among them.

Saunders, whom Zimpher endorsed as acting president, will continue to lead the college, Doyle said.

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