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SUNY chancellor recommends new search for NCC president

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L.

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher delivers her third annual State of the University Address at The Egg in Albany. (Jan. 15, 2013) Credit: Albany Times Union

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher is asking Nassau Community College's governing board to reset the search for a new president after several weeks of allegations of favoritism and political infighting.

Her office sent an email letter to Dr. Jorge Gardyn, who since Sunday has been head of the board of trustees at the Garden City institution, asking to launch a new search, with a new chair of the search committee, appointing a state lawyer to oversee the new search and advising the school to hire a new consultant.

"I believe that we have gone past the point where an investigation could validate the current search process with the college and wider community," she wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. "Therefore, I am asking that a new search process be convened with a chair appointed who was not a prior member of the search committee."

Zimpher has no direct control of the college's board of trustees or its actions, but she can block any nominee for the post. It was unclear Wednesday how they would react to her letter.

A campuswide email message with a copy of Zimpher's letter was sent out Wednesday morning. Zimpher intervened last week, calling for an investigation into allegations of bias during the presidential selection process.

Trustee Anthony Cornachio, who heads the search committee, said he would not participate in another search.

Cornachio said the chancellor was overstepping her authority.

"She's prejudged without hearing the other side," Cornachio said. "She's taking the position that the accusations that were made were true."

The members of the search committee were drafting a letter to SUNY defending themselves and their work, he said.

A Garden City lawyer and part-time attorney for the Village of Island Park, Cornachio said, "This took a tremendous amount of time. I just don't have the time to devote to this anymore."

Cornachio drew the ire of some on campus, mostly minorities, for referring to a black longtime professor as a "thug" and referring to the female president of the minority campus group ALANA as "the youngest looking" and "very pretty" in an email to other trustees. ALANA had unsuccessfully lobbied for representation on the search committee and, along with others, has called for Cornachio's resignation as the committee's chair.

Gardyn, a physician and vice chair of the board, took the reins of the NCC board after chair Geoffrey Prime abruptly resigned over the weekend, citing time constraints.

Gardyn said he appreciates the "continued interest that the chancellor has shown in the presidential search process."

"At the end of the day, we have to make sure we've chosen the best possible presidential candidate to lead Nassau Community College," Gardyn said. "As trustees, it is our job to represent the interests of those 24,000 students."

Gardyn said he and trustees would discuss the next steps and whether there would be any additional cost or significant time delays in launching a new search. A special meeting of the college's board of trustees is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Trustee Mary Adams said she supports the chancellor's request. "It is the only way to set the record straight," she said.

Student trustee Faruque Amin and trustee Edward Powers said they had no comment. Three other trustees did not return email and telephone messages requesting comment.

ALANA said in a statement it supported the chancellor's request for a new search "with a chair appointed who was not a member of the current search committee."

NCC is the largest single-campus community college in the state university system.

Zimpher's endorsement is needed to advance any candidate to the SUNY board of trustees for a final vote. Last week, she said she would block the approval of a new president at NCC unless the integrity of the search process was upheld through an investigation.

Trustees and the 12-member committee have been trying to find a new president to replace Donald Astrab, who left after 30 months on the job and two faculty votes of no confidence.

The committee on May 6 announced it had narrowed the field to three finalists: a president of a Chicago city college, the interim president of Dowling College in Oakdale and a Nassau administrative judge.

College officials sent a copy of the chancellor's Tuesday letter to each of the three candidates, university officials said.

NCC acting president Kenneth Saunders, who was not among the finalists, claimed he was not given a fair interview. Minority campus groups and various individuals, including activists with the NAACP, packed a meeting last week calling on trustees to redo the search and voiced support for Saunders.

Saunders will continue in his role as acting president. If the college reboots the search, Saunders and the three finalists could go back into the larger pool of candidates, college officials said.

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