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Frank Talk from The President’s Desk: The Nassau Community College Foundation

During the NCCFT General Union Meeting on March 19, 2019, and then again at the Academic Affairs meeting on March 21st, concerns were raised with respect to the fact that Nassau Community College pays the salaries of those who work at the Nassau Community College Foundation. The colleagues who raised those concerns, and they were all NCCFT members, claimed that the Foundation salaries amount to around $500,000. Wouldn’t it make more sense, these members argued, for the Foundation to be self-sufficient, thus returning that half-a-million-dollars to “us” as savings that could be put to use for “our” benefit? The way they phrased this question caught my interest, since it raises an issue that I think we need to address as a campus community: Whom precisely do any of us mean when we say “us” and “our” in this context, and whom do we mean by the “them” that is therefore implied? First, however, if we’re going to discuss The Foundation’s finances, I think it’s important to make sure that we get our facts straight.

I’m sure that no one who is part of our campus community will disagree that the Foundation plays a vital role in the life of this college in more ways than one. For the many students who receive the scholarship funds the Foundation distributes, the Foundation is, in fact, as it says on its website, one of the places where“the road to success begins.” As well, more than a few faculty members have benefited from the Foundation’s financial support—of both our individual professional development activities and the cultural and leadership activities the Foundation helps to fund for the college. In order to provide this kind of support, the Foundation’s Mission Statement notes, it must be equipped not only to fundraise, but also to “hold, invest, and administer [the] gifts and donations [it receives on behalf of] Nassau Community College[,] its students[,] and faculty.” As of 2016-2017, according to the most recently available SUNY “Fundraising Survey Report,” the Foundation was administering over $1 million in gifts received (more than double the amount for 2012-2013 – see page 44) from nearly 1,500 donors

According to the NCC President’s Office, the salaries paid to the four Foundation staff members who do this work totals less than $300,000, a portion of which is returned to the college by the Silcox Foundation. Still, three hundred thousand dollars is a substantial sum of money for the college to be giving the Foundation, so I asked both President Keen and Ms. Joy DeDonato, the Foundation’s Executive Director, about why the Foundation is not self-sufficient. Each agreed that self-sufficiency would be the ideal goal, but asserted that, given the state of the organization’s budget, this is just not currently feasible. What is particularly important in light of the concerns raised by our colleagues, however, which both President Keen and Ms. DeDonato were quick to point out, is that the Foundation is not being complacent. The “naming rights” resolution currently being reviewed by the NCC Board of Trustees is a development initiative that can attract the level of funding necessary to make the Foundation’s self-sufficiency a reality. The Foundation, in other words, is moving in the right direction.

When I spoke with Dr. Keen and Ms. DeDonato, I was impressed with their commitment to transparency in discussing the Foundation’s finances and its interactions with the college. I am very aware, however, that this kind of transparency was not always forthcoming. In 2012, when the Foundation changed its bylaws, we were going through some very turbulent times. The relationship between faculty and administration had been strained to the breaking point; the chair of Nassau Community College’s Board of Trustees was indicted and forced to resign from the Board, though he was later acquitted of all charges; then other trustees were forced to resign, for reasons both legal and political; and, on top of all that, irregularities and discrepancies were discovered on the Foundation’s 990 tax documents. We as a faculty, to put it mildly, were not in a very trusting state of mind.

So, when the Foundation informed, but did not consult with the Academic Senate about a change in the composition of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, which removed the Academic Senate Chair and changed the at-large faculty member to “one faculty member to be appointed by the Academic Senate”—reducing the number of seats we held from two to one—we were furious. Other changes included the requirement that Board members sign both a conflict of interest statement and a confidentiality agreement. Given the mood at the time, the latter change in particular only increased our sense that the Foundation was optingfor an opaque rather than a transparent relationship with us. A sense-of-the-body was taken at a Senate meeting and the decision was made to boycott the Foundation. The NCCFT honored that boycott until last year, and Senate Chair Anissa Moore has stated publicly that the Academic Senate Executive Committee is working to lift the boycott in the Senate as well. It will be good to have an NCCFT faculty member sitting once again on the Foundation’s board.

One reason the NCCFT Executive Board chose to end its boycott—and while I cannot speak for them, I assume the Academic Senate Executive Committee is similarly motivated—is that the Foundation’s staff and Board of Directors, perhaps especially President Keen, who serves as an ex officio Board member, and Executive Director DeDonato, have earned our trust. In addition, most of us on the NCCFT Executive Committee and Board, as well as on the Academic Senate, were not on the front lines of the battles we fought back then. Both the Foundation’s new leadership and ours deserve to establish their own relationship, based on the currentstate of affairs on our campus, which I would say are pretty good. With the Middle States crisis firmly behind us, we have successfully completed a search for a new college president; faculty and administration have been working together on a number of important projects, from the overhaul of developmental education to a retooling of Gen Ed; we have an Academic Senate that is more inclusive of college constituencies than ever before; there are three searches in progress to fill three temporary Academic Dean positions; and we have a full Board of Trustees, with no unfortunate resignations in sight.

This is not to say there are no challenges ahead of us. The four campus unions—the NCCFT, the AFA, the NCAA, and CSEA—are all either negotiating, or will soon be negotiating, new contracts. College finances, in other words, will soon be veryhotly contested territory—and thatbrings me back to where I started, with the questions that were raised about the Nassau Foundation salaries. Obviously, every campus constituency, not only the unions, needs to advocate for its own best interests, financial or otherwise. It would be unfortunate, however, if we allow that advocacy to be driven by an us-versus-them mentality. If we—and since it was NCCFT members who raised these questions, I will make this about our union—if we argue that the money the college spends on the Foundation is more properly spent on us, aren’t we also arguing against the best interests of the students for whom the Foundation’s support is so important? Can’t we find better ways of arguing for the levels of funding and support that we need in order to do our jobs most effectively.

Finally, in full disclosure, I am being honored at the Foundation Gala on April 10 and I hope to see you there. If not, I hope you will support the Nassau Community College Foundation in any way that you can, as they are here to support the College.

2 Responses

  1. As an alumni of NCC and a board member of the NCCF, this was such a refreshing read. Thank you for acknowledging the hard work Joy and her team do every day – to make sure the mission of the board shines, students are able to further their education, and the “us vs them” mentality disappears – and streamlines into ….. #ThisIsUs –
    We are stronger together!
    See you on April 10!

  2. As a board member of the NCC Foundation, I applaud your positive message of togetherness and teamwork on the campus as there had been a good deal of palpable disunion in the past. If we are being candid, we can clearly see that Joy and her small, loyal team are the backbone of, and the reason the Foundation has been able to successfully deliver scholarships to multitudes of need-based and worthy students at NCC semester after semester. Lest we forget, we are here, or should be, for the service and benefit of the students of NCC. The attitude has to be what we can collectively do for them, not for “us”.

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