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NCC faculty group wants probe of school’s presidential choice

Kenneth Saunders, currently executive vice president at Nassau

Kenneth Saunders, currently executive vice president at Nassau Community College and a finalist for president, speaks during the NCC board of trustees meeting in Garden City on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

An influential group of Nassau Community College faculty has declared no confidence in the current and future leadership of Kenneth Saunders, one of three finalists in the school’s ongoing presidential search, and has requested an independent investigation into the choice of a new leader.

“It’s not the process of the presidential search committee, which was conducted with the utmost integrity, that was the problem. It’s what happened after the search committee finished its work, and before the trustees voted, that we believe needs to be looked into,” said philosophy professor Evelyn Deluty, chairwoman of the college’s Academic Senate, which has a membership of nearly all of the faculty, administrators and students.

Saunders, 59, of Freeport, is the college’s former acting president and currently is its executive vice president. He did not respond to voice mail and email messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

The Academic Senate passed two resolutions at its regular meeting on March 10.

The action came as officials at the 22,000-student college wait for State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher to approve the NCC board of trustees’ choice for president.

The name of the person selected by NCC trustees on March 3 is being held until after SUNY has granted approval. Approval by the chancellor and SUNY trustees is needed to install a president at any of the colleges and universities in the state system.

The Academic Senate sent letters to Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees. SUNY spokeswoman Casey Vattimo declined to comment Wednesday.

Jorge Gardyn, chairman of the NCC board, said the search process had been upheld by SUNY officials as being fair and a model for the rest of the state university system.

He would not reveal the name of the candidate recommended to SUNY, but said state officials were present while trustees were voting on finalists. Among those officials was Johanna Duncan-Poitier, senior vice chancellor for community colleges, he said.

“They were in the room when we were interviewing the candidates, when we were deliberating and when we were voting,” Gardyn said. “I don’t know what else we can do. We are just trying to make the college a better place.”

While the minutes of the meeting are available under the state’s open meetings law, the names of the candidates have been redacted.

NCC is the largest, single-campus community college in the 64-campus state system. It is funded by county and state budgets, federal aid programs and student tuition.

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.

Saunders, who worked with Astrab, has been at the college for more than 14 years and was a finalist in two presidential searches there since Astrab left.

Frank Frisenda, acting president of the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers, which represents the full-time college faculty, said the faculty groups have no confidence in Saunders because he “has not been able to articulate a vision for this campus and motivate the faculty to share this vision.”

The other two finalists in the current presidential search 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.

Gena Glickman, 64, president of Manchester Community College in Connecticut, was named as a finalist in January with the others but withdrew.

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