Earlier this year, at it’s March 21st meeting, the Board of Trustees issued an ultimatum regarding what it perceived as the unacceptably slow pace of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) in responding to Middle States’ requirements for bringing us back into compliance wth Standards 4 and 5 (Leadership and Governance & Administration). If the GRTF proved unable by the end of the spring semester to resolve the issues standing in the way of progress, the Board assured us, it would impose its own solution upon us. This past Tuesday, at their June 27th meeting, in response to the failed revised-bylaws ratification vote that took place on May 11th, the trustees did what they said they would, passing a resolution that abrogates the current Senate bylaws in their entirety and charges President Keen with devising an alternative system of shared governance to present to the Board on or before September 1, 2017.
The resolution—the full text of which you can read here—is carefully worded to make sure that what Dr. Keen comes up with is consistent with New York State education law, comports with Middle States’ requirements, does not violate Section 20 of our contract, and ensures faculty participation in keeping with those three measures. While we are not surprised that the Board has passed this resolution—they are, after all, merely doing what they said they would do—we do not agree that a complete abrogation of the Academic Senate Bylaws is within their authority. (In the video, Trustee DeGrace reads the full resolution here and the “Resolved” section here, but we recommend that you read the full document, since the sound on the video is not always clear.)
The NCCFT Executive Committee supported the proposed revisions to the Senate bylaws for two reasons. First, based on what they said during meetings of the GRTF, we understood that the then-members of the Academic Senate Executive Committee had agreed to support the changes. Second, and in some ways more importantly, the faculty’s elected representatives, the members of the Academic Senate, voted to accept the revisions. We were disappointed when the ratification vote failed, and we also shared the Board’s concern about what the failure could mean for what it called in its ultimatum, “the timely compliance of certain accreditation parameters.” Nonetheless—and whether the Board is bound by the Senate’s bylaws or not—the Senate emerges from Section 20 of our collective bargaining agreement, and so we believe that authority over the Senate belongs to us.
Of the legal options available to us to challenge both the Board’s resolution and the substance of whatever alternative system of governance Dr. Keen establishes, we have chosen—and the college has agreed to—binding arbitration. It is in no one’s best interest for this case to be ongoing when Middle States arrives on campus in the fall, and binding arbitration is the only option which proceeds quickly enough for the case to be resolved before school starts in September. Indeed, the memorandum of agreement laying out the terms of the arbitration stipulates that it must be completed on or before September 1, 2017. That memorandum also stipulates that the arbitrator’s decision, whatever it is, cannot violate our contract with the college, meaning that Section 20 will remain intact. Beyond that, we will have to wait and see what the arbitrator decides.
This is the statement NCCFT President Frank Frisenda made on Tuesday about this situation:
This has been a year filled with depression, frustration, disappointment and hope. Yet, as complicated as this seems, it is better than the anger and hopelessness of the past. We have made incredible progress in meeting the requirements of the Middle States Commission under the leadership of Dr. Keen, his administration and the countless faculty that have worked tirelessly to recreate the campus and redraft a new beginning for the future of Nassau Community College. This endeavor has created a new atmosphere of cooperation and collegiality with a few notable exceptions. It is unfortunate that those notable exceptions have brought us to this one frustrating issue of Standard 4 – Governance. I do appreciate that the Board gave Dr Keen the authority to try to resolve this. During the numerous discussions on governance, many valid points, concerns and opinions were expressed. However, the campus was not able to reach a consensus. It is no surprise that we find ourselves at this point. You told us what you expected and what would happen if we did not meet those expectations. However, the NCCFT has the authority over the Senate as expressed in our Collective Bargaining Agreement and we will not standby and allow this abrogation of the Senate bylaws to go unchallenged. We have agreed to expedite our challenge through binding Arbitration as the most efficient method to resolve this and hope the outcome is acceptable to the Middle States Commission and yet, maintains the relevancy and authority of the Academic Senate. Whether or not we agree, we will continue to work with our colleagues to find common ground throughout the campus, in the Senate, with the Chairs, the Administration and this Board. None of us has any choice. Have a pleasant summer.