Correcting the Record

The June 17th Inside Higher Education article “The Three Year Search” (Inside Higher Ed – A Three-Year Search by Ashley A. Smith) details NCC’s three-year ordeal to find a permanent president. The search has become an exemplar of what happens when SUNY Presidential Search recommendations are ignored. These guidelines which warn against permitting an individual to be both a temporary president and a candidate for the permanent position state:

“Experience has shown that the pressure on trustees and search committee members, real or imagined, can cloud an open search when there is an internal candidate who is at the same time chief executive.  Therefore, we recommend that temporary or interim appointees not be candidates for the permanent position.” Guidelines for Presidential Search for Community Colleges, Section V

The Inside Higher Education article illustrates how our Acting President uses his insider position to promote his on-going quest for the NCC presidency. He touts his fitness for the job, both fiscal and academic. We see things differently.

Acting President Saunders states: “…I’m committed to this institution and in my three years serving as acting president I’ve done, in my estimation and according to others, an exceptional job.”  

In support of this he asserts he’s raised over $11 million in grants for the college’s academic programs and more than $20 million for capital projects; furthermore he claims to have led the college into a partnership with the Nassau County police force for a new $50 million on-campus training facility.

These claims are misleading. In fact, the project for the police was in the works long before the Acting President assumed his position. As to the grant monies referred to, they have, for the most part, been in place for years and were the result of the ongoing work of faculty committees, programs driven by faculty initiatives, and extant administrative offices.

Moreover, NCC’s capital (infrastructure) budget has always been well funded. The issue is not how are we going to “fix the fountains,” but how to secure the needed funds/revenue to operate the college. It is the operating budget that is problematic. We find it remarkable that in-house, the Saunders’ administration asserts we are in dire fiscal straits, yet when interviewed for a national audience he extolls our fiscal stability. Which is it?

Furthermore, the Saunders’ administration has been completely ineffective in marketing this college, creating an endowment or tapping into new funding sources for the college or moving the County to increase its contribution to the college, which remains at 2008 funding levels. We need a president who is proactive not reactive.

What we do not need is a President who closes operating budget gaps on the backs of our students with annual tuition increases while depleting full time faculty lines, whittling away the college’s fund balance and cutting academic department budgets.

Acting President Saunders defends his record and suitability for the position stating:

“… the faculty weren’t challenged under Fanelli, but Astrab and he began to question the logic and reasoning behind some faculty initiatives. And for the first time, the administration is putting forward some of their own changes and projects, an example of true shared governance…”

Under the Saunders’ administration we have seen no new academic programs or advancement of academic integrity. We have, however, seen examples of these so-called “projects” and “changes” in the form of: a hiring freeze and a drain on enrollment and retention. Most egregious of all the changes he has instituted has been the systematic destruction of shared governance. All these acts have occurred at the same time that there has been a significant decline of full-time teaching faculty. In addition,  Acting President Saunders has not initiated a search for an Academic Vice-President. NCC has not had an Academic Vice President for five years, which puts us at a significant disadvantage. All of these “initiatives” now put us in danger of not meeting Middle States Standards placing our accreditation in jeopardy. Just as glaring, the Saunders’ “initiatives” and “programs” have seriously eroded our reputation as one of the leading community colleges in the nation.

Acting President Saunders states: “Those who are against him are in the minority.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. The main representative bodies of the NCC faculty are not in favor of Ken Saunders becoming NCC’s permanent president. In neither his first nor second bite at the presidential apple did he garner sufficient BoT support to be appointed even though he has vigorously campaigned for the position. Clearly faculty, and trustees alike, have serious reservations with regard to Dr. Saunders and his candidacy.

At this point we urge our Board to follow the SUNY Guidelines  and  to not consider the Acting President for the permanent position.This action will signal both to the campus community and to any potential candidates that NCC is prepared to have a genuine search unmarred by the appearance of favoritism or internal wrangling. Only in this manner can we begin to return our campus to a semblance of normalcy.

In this interview Dr. Saunders stated, “My record speaks for itself.” We agree. It does.