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NCC trustees defy SUNY chancellor, push prez 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

Nassau Community College's trustees took a defiant stand last night, voting 5 to 3 to reject the SUNY's chancellor's urgent request they redo the search for a new college president.

The five votes bypassed Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

The board is technically at an impasse about its next move because it does not have the six votes -- the majority of the 10 seats on the board -- needed to reject a resolution suspending the search or approving one to continue. There are two vacant seats on the board.

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

With all eight sitting members of the board of trustees present, they voted against suspending the search for a president to replace Donald Astrab, and to instead respond to Zimpher's request for a new search because of allegations of impropriety.

Trustees John P. Donnelly, Mary A. Adams and acting board chairman Dr. Jorge L. Gardyn voted to undertake a new search as sought by Zimpher. Trustees Anthony Cornachio, Edward W. Powers, Arnold W. Drucker, Faruque Amin and John A. DeGrace voted to proceed. The selection committee has picked three finalists: a president of a Chicago city college, the interim president of Dowling College in Oakdale, and a Nassau administrative judge.

Zimpher has no direct control of the college's board of trustees or its actions, but she can block any nominee for the post.

In her Tuesday letter to the trustees, she also said she was appointing a state lawyer to oversee the new search and advised the school to hire a new consultant.

Earlier, the leaders of three full-time faculty groups at Nassau Community College defended the integrity of the search for the school's next president and called on the trustees to continue with a formal investigation into allegations of bias during the search process.

A letter emailed to the campus community stating that the search for president was conducted "with thoughtful consideration, integrity, honesty and a commitment to select the best presidential candidates," was sent out by Debra DeSanto, president of the college's full-time faculty union; Kimberley Reiser, chairwoman of the college's Academic Senate; and Lynn Mazzola, chairwoman of the group that represents the college's academic department chairs.

The three women, all members of the 12-member committee to select the next president, represent hundreds of full-time faculty members and academic leadership.

"We request that the Board of Trustees address the Chancellor's interference in institutional autonomy and campus governance," stated their letter, dated Wednesday.

Zimpher's call to scrap the search and launch a new one came after weeks of bitter disagreement among campus leaders and public accusations of impropriety during the nearly nine-month pursuit of a new president.

Mazzola, who represents more than 30 academic chairs, said she was "appalled" by the chancellor's intervention.

DeSanto, an NCC alum, said committee members had been bound by a confidentiality agreement and could not talk during the search process.

Reiser said she wanted to "set the record straight with facts. . . . I'm really anxious to see the evidence the chancellor used to make her decision."

Zimpher "appreciates the opinions of the campus community," said SUNY spokesman David Doyle in an email Thursday night."However a careful consideration of the facts surrounding the search by SUNY system administration has led to the decision that the best course of action is to begin with a clean slate. SUNY's position and the reasons behind it are clear and have been outlined in several communications and public statements."

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