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NCC must hire president, halt political intrusion, report says

A view of Nassau Community College in

A view of Nassau Community College in Garden City on April 13, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Nassau Community College must hire a permanent president, prevent political intrusion, raise student enrollment and graduation rates and rebuild trust among its constituents, according to an independent team reviewing the school’s accreditation.

The 31-page evaluation, conducted by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, slammed the governance and operations of the 22,000-student public college — in one section calling the climate on campus “hostile and uncivil.”

The confidential report was sent to NCC interim president Thomas Dolan on Tuesday and was made available to the campus community through a secure web portal. It confirms the review team’s oral assessment, given last month after a three-day visit, that the college is out of compliance with seven of 14 quality benchmarks Middle States says are needed for NCC to remain in good standing.

Dolan, in a statement, said the review team provided “a clear map of the path forward for the college. We must comply, we can comply and we will comply. There is nothing in this report that the college cannot remedy as long as we are all committed and willing to do so.” He emailed the report to Newsday.

The college has 10 days from the report’s receipt to issue a response. All the documents will help to determine actions taken by Middle States, a Philadelphia-based agency that accredits institutions in multiple states.

NCC’s accreditation status is expected to come before the commission at its June 23 meeting. The two-year college could be given a warning or face stronger action, such as probation. Maintaining a good accreditation status is critical to students’ participation in federal financial aid programs and could be a factor in the validity of their academic record and their ability to obtain future employment.

The Middle States team raised major concerns about the integrity of the college’s leadership and about political influence upon its employment practices. It cited NCC’s multiyear presidential search and college trustees’ December decision to hire former Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray to fill a $151,000 media and governmental relations job.

NCC board of trustees chairman Jorge Gardyn was not available for comment Wednesday. Brian Nevin, spokesman for Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, said he had not received a copy of the report and reserved comment on it. The college is funded by student tuition, along with county and state money.

“However, during a recent budget overview presentation to the county executive and deputy county executive for finance, Dr. Dolan assured the county that the college will address the concerns of the commission,” Nevin said.

The Garden City college needs to have better planning and come up with a strategy to raise enrollment and retain and graduate more students, the team’s report said. It recommended that NCC consider the effects that a salary freeze has had on employees. The report also pointed to a $330-million liability for post-retirement benefits as a problem for the school’s budget.

Reviewers mentioned the fractious relationship among NCC’s trustees, administrators and faculty.

“It should be noted that administrators, faculty, and the board of trustees all share a common hope that the next president will prove to be a transformational leader that the campus desperately needs,” the report said. “The climate on campus is hostile and uncivil.”

Evelyn Deluty, chairwoman of the Academic Senate, said she was not surprised by the report’s findings. She said it is confirmation of the college’s noncompliance with Middle States’ standards and the importance of finding a leader who will secure the school’s accreditation.

“The recommendations and suggestions are very helpful, and I hope the college will collaborate to address these,” said Deluty, a philosophy professor. “Meanwhile, we have guidelines on what to do to secure our accreditation.”

NCC is the largest, single-campus community college in New York’s public university system. The college has been without a permanent president since the departure of Donald Astrab in 2012. Astrab was on the job for 30 months and received two votes of no-confidence by the Academic Senate, a majority of whom are members of the college’s full-time faculty.

The college’s administration, faculty and board of trustees have been at odds over the selection of the school’s next leader ever since. Three times, trustees have been unable to choose a viable finalist to become president. As with the other 64 campuses in the SUNY system, any president installed at the school first must gain the approval of Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees.

NCC trustees’ most recent choice for the position, on March 3, was Kenneth Saunders, the school’s former acting president and current executive vice president, who was a finalist in two earlier presidential searches. A State University of New York official said Saunders’ name was withdrawn. Saunders has not responded to requests for comment.

Review team’s recommendations to Nassau Community College

A team representing the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an independent accrediting agency based in Philadelphia, made corrective recommendations in a written report on Nassau Community College after a campus visit March 13-16.

The board of trustees must:

  • Appoint a permanent president.
  • Prevent political intrusion into the college’s business.
  • Ensure the integrity of hiring practices throughout the college.
  • Establish an organized and systematic way of self-assessment and evaluation.

The college must:

  • Rebuild trust and collegiality among constituent groups to ensure students’ interests are protected and NCC’s future is secured.
  • Develop a comprehensive strategic enrollment plan.
  • Publicize to prospective students the expected student learning outcomes for each program.
  • Develop a set of key performance indicators to provide administrators with clear measures to achieve the institution’s mission and goals.

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