As you know, the Executive Committee has been working hard to improve how we communicate with you, and this monthly update—which we’re calling “Frank Talk from The President’s Desk”—is our latest addition to that effort. I had hoped to inaugurate these updates with our usual welcome-to-the-new-academic-year message, but the first weeks of the semester were so busy, so filled with work that needed to get done, that September was over before we even turned around. So before I say anything else, let me offer you all a belated welcome to the 2017-2018 academic year. I hope it is going smoothly.
What a difference a year makes!
My NCCFT presidency began with a Vote of No Confidence in the previous Acting President of Nassau Community College, several failed and rancorous searches for a permanent college president, the retirement of over 100 full-time faculty, along with the loss of those lines, and the college’s failure of 7 out of the 14 Middle States standards, which led to the probationary status we have spent the last year working to resolve.
In response, the Board of Trustees hired Dr. Keen to right the dysfunction on our campus. President Keen’s first action was to rearrange his cabinet and hire Dr. Valerie Collins as Acting VP of Academic Affairs. He contacted elected faculty leaders, introduced himself, and asked that we meet with him on a regular basis so that our perspectives on all issues confronting the college could be discussed. Among the changes Dr. Keen wanted to make was establishing the Institutional Planning Committee. I agreed with that decision because, as I understood it, the Academic Senate Strategic Planning Committee could not adequately address the Middle States requirements we would have to meet in order to remove our probationary status. Professor Donna Hope, the NCCFT Classroom Vice President, agreed to serve as our representative to that committee. In addition, I signed several MOA’s with the college to allow for the work of a new Assessment Coordinator and the Assessment Fellows—again, because it was my understanding that the Senate Academic Assessment Committee could not adequately address the Middle States requirements. During this period, Dr. Keen also established the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF), which included representatives from each branch of the elected faculty leadership, to review the role, responsibilities, and authority of the Academic Senate—in light, once again, of the Middle States requirements.
When the Board of Trustees issued their March 21st ultimatum, that we either create a system of shared governance that would comply with Middle States or they would intervene, I conferred with my colleagues on campus, at SUNY, at NYSUT, and with members of the Nassau County Legislature. I came away from those conversation affirmed in my own belief that we were not too big to fail, that Middle States was not bluffing, and that changes needed to be made to a system of shared governance that clearly had not served us well during the turmoil of the previous five or six years. Some of those changes were embodied in the amended bylaws, supported by the GRTF and put forward for ratification last May by the Senate. Unfortunately, a misguided, but nonetheless successful campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation resulted in the defeat of those proposed changes.
On June 27th, the Board of Trustees fulfilled their ultimatum and directed Dr. Keen to produce Academic Senate bylaws in compliance with NY State law, Middle States requirements, and the NCCFT contract by September 1, 2017. In response, after careful consideration and consultation with NYSUT, the NCCFT decided to challenge through binding arbitration the Board’s authority in this matter. For his part, Dr. Keen chose to respond to the Board’s directive by reconvening the GRTF, albeit with slightly different membership. The NCCFT was still represented, as were the chairs, but due to the sudden, resignation-in-protest of those members of the Academic Senate Executive Committee (ASEC) whose terms had not yet expired, the ASEC was represented only by its new chair, Professor Anissa Moore, and the student representative. With this new configuration, the GRTF was able to take a fresh approach in dealing with the Senate bylaws, and the result was that—except for the few issues which needed to be decided by the arbitrator—most issues were resolved through negotiation and compromise.
To make matters more complicated, the NCCFT was engaged in contract negotiations while all this was going on. I made statements, both private and public, that the NCCFT Executive Committee was committed both to producing a timely contract and ensuring that Nassau Community College passed the Middle States requirements. Thanks to your support, we did both. Our new contract was ratified last month by 83% of our voting members; and just last week the Middle States visiting team said that it believes NCC is now in compliance with all accreditation standards. In particular, I want to note that, at last week’s SUNY briefing, the visiting team called our decision to take the college to binding arbitration a “bold move.” Had we not done so, they said, had we failed to resolve those issues before their visit, we would almost certainly have found ourselves under a “show cause” order. (If you’d like to understand our thinking behind this “bold move,” you can read about it here.)
None of us work in a vacuum, and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to those who helped us achieve what we have achieved. I want personally to take this opportunity to thank the NCCFT membership, the NCCFT Executive Committee, the NCCFT Executive Board, The NCCFT Negotiating Team, the AFA, the outgoing and incoming Chairs of the Academic Chairs, the new Academic Senate Chair and the incoming Academic Senate Executive Committee, the Senate, the Institutional Planning Committee, the Middle States Coordinating Committee, the Assessment Fellows, the Administration, the Board of Trustees, SUNY, NYSUT, and each one of you who offered me advice, guidance and support. I also, and of course, want to thank Dr. Keen and Dr. Collins, whose leadership and guidance allowed all constituents of the campus to work together and demonstrate who we really are.
Now it’s time to get back to work and show our students that they made the right choice to attend Nassau Community College. A year really does make a difference.
PS While I am very interested in hearing any responses you might have to what I’ve said here, I ask that you not post them to the NCC email servers. If you just want to let me know what you think, please use the comments section of this blog post to do so. If you haven’t commented before, your first comment will have to be approved, which—as long as it comports with our comments policy—is a mere formality. However, if you’d like me to respond to your comments, you can call or email the NCCFT office, and I will be sure to get back to you.