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NCC president candidate withdraws name, says SUNY

Kenneth Saunders, seen here, was the choice of

Kenneth Saunders, seen here, was the choice of Nassau Community College trustees for president, according to sources. Credit: Barry Sloan

The choice of Nassau Community College trustees for president has withdrawn from consideration, a State University of New York spokeswoman said Wednesday.

That candidate was Kenneth Saunders, the former acting president of the college for nearly three years who was the subject of a no-confidence vote by faculty leadership this month, sources at the college told Newsday.

NCC trustees selected Saunders from three finalists in an executive session at their March 3 meeting and sent his name confidentially to SUNY officials for approval, the sources said.

Neither SUNY nor NCC officials on Wednesday would release the name of the candidate who was to be considered for the president’s post, citing confidentiality agreements.

Approval by Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees is needed for a president to be installed at any of the 64 campuses in the state system.

Saunders, 59, who is currently serving as executive vice president at the Garden City institution, would not confirm his withdrawal when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon. He said he would “let the process play out in SUNY.”

He declined to comment further.

“The SUNY board of trustees was prepared to act at its March 23 meeting. However, the candidate sent forward by the Nassau Community College board of trustees has withdrawn from consideration,” SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis said in a statement. “They look forward to receiving another candidate for consideration from the NCC board.”

The move pitches the decision on the college’s next leader back to NCC trustees, who “will send another candidate to the chancellor and the SUNY board of trustees for consideration,” Liapis said.

Saunders, of Freeport, has been at the college for more than 14 years and was in the finalist pool twice at NCC during the nearly four-year quest to replace its previous president. His annual salary is $225,000.

Former president Donald Astrab abruptly departed in July 2012 after 30 months on the job and two votes of no confidence against him by the college’s faculty leadership. His salary was $230,000 annually.

Jorge Gardyn, chairman of NCC’s board, declined to comment on whether Saunders had withdrawn from the presidential search. Asked how many finalists remain in the running, he said, “Let’s put it this way: At the next board meeting the trustees have to deliberate regarding the next president of Nassau Community College, as well as other important business.”

Other trustees on the 10-person board either declined to comment or did not respond to messages.

The NCC board’s next scheduled meeting is April 12.

The other two finalists 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.

The 22,000-student school — the largest, single-campus community college in the SUNY system — was slammed last week in an oral exit report by an independent accrediting agency as lacking in stable leadership, integrity, planning and financial resources, among other areas.

A review team from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education concluded a three-day visit on March 16 with a report to administrators and faculty leaders about the college’s failure to comply with seven of the agency’s 14 standards, putting the school’s accreditation in jeopardy.

“We really need to wait for the final report,” Gardyn said Wednesday. “When that happens, I believe it will look very different from what’s out there on this topic.”

Meanwhile, faculty leaders are calling for SUNY to take more definitive action. They twice have voted no-confidence in Saunders’ leadership, present and future, and have called for an investigation of the current search.

“What we are now facing is so important for the education of our students and the future of the college that it changes everything with regards to the presidential search,” said philosophy Professor Evelyn Deluty, chairwoman of the college’s Academic Senate, which represents full-time faculty as well as delegates from the student body and the administration.

Biology Professor Kimberley Reiser, president of the college’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said “SUNY needs to press the pause button.”

“SUNY needs to appoint an interim who has experience in turning colleges around,” Reiser said.

In the four years since Astrab left, NCC’s board has approached the finalist round three times. One search resulted in Zimpher stepping in after allegations of favoritism toward a Nassau County administrative judge, who eventually withdrew from consideration.

During that search, which began in 2012, a group representing minority faculty and staff said they were excluded from the decision-making process. Saunders, who was a finalist then, told Newsday he was treated unfairly. Another search resulted in trustees’ inability to agree on any of the finalists and restarting the process.

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