On July 1, Dr. Jermaine Williams will start his tenure as president of Nassau Community College, inaugurating what I have come to think of, without irony, as our post-Keen era. We cannot know what the future will bring, but we do know where we’ve been, and it’s worth reflecting on just how far we’ve come now that Dr. Keen’s time with us is drawing to a close.
When Dr. Keen arrived, he inherited a campus in chaos. Having gone years without effective administrative leadership, particularly in Academic Affairs, Nassau Community College was mired in conflict. Led first by a president in whom we voted no confidence, who ultimately resigned, and then by two interim presidents—one of whom had no higher education experience, while the other, who had such experience, nonetheless also merited a vote of no confidence—this former administration could not articulate a coherent vision for the campus that the faculty could understand and support. As a result, that administration’s relationship with the Academic Senate remained dysfunctional at best, and the representatives of the elected faculty leadership—the Academic Senate Executive Committee, the Chairs, and the NCCFT—found it next-to-impossible to reach consensus with that administration about anything.
Moreover, whenever there were issues that needed to be resolved—when we needed an administrator to make a decision or to act—this absence of effective academic leadership forced us to go from dean to dean, from administrator to administrator, in search of a resolution. That, of course, only led to further chaos, anger, and resentment. In our frustration, we turned to the Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, however, our attempts to educate them about what was proving to be an ever-increasing spiral of administrative incompetence failed. Instead of paying attention to our explanations and warnings, the Board blindly supported the previous administration’s approach, a decision that led directly to the disastrous Middle States report, from which we have only recently recovered.
In the end—no doubt, in part, because even in the face of that Middle States report the Board initially persisted in supporting that administration’s dysfunctional leadership—the SUNY Chancellor’s office forced the presidential search which led to the hiring of Dr. Keen. Tellingly, one of Dr. Keen’s first official acts was to appoint Dr. Valerie Collins as acting Vice-President of Academic Affairs, ensuring that we would at last have coherent and consistent academic leadership. He insisted that all constituencies of the college community begin to understand the seriousness of the Middle States requirements, and Dr. Collins began the arduous task of organizing and convincing the faculty to follow a roadmap to recovery.
This was no easy task. Not all administrators were in agreement on the necessary next steps; nor were the faculty in agreement—not with each other or the administration—and all this was happening while the Board of Trustees had to engage in a BOT training program. Nonetheless, as we made the difficult decisions that needed to be made, driven by detailed analysis of the data provided in meticulous reports generated by dedicated faculty and administrators, the campus community began to reestablish the confidence and trust that is necessary for us to function as an institution of higher education. We successfully bargained a contract, for example, while simultaneously passing all the Middle States standards we had previously failed.
As a result of this newfound trust, we have finally been able to engage in honest and transparent discussions about the future of the campus, particularly in the realm of enrollment and retention, and it has indeed been heartening to see the cooperative efforts of the Chairs, the Academic Senate, the Administration, and the NCCFT begin to bear fruit. These discussions are still difficult, inconvenient, and uncomfortable, but the fact that we can have them at all, without descending into the chaos of previous years, is perhaps the strongest indicator of our future success that I can see right now.
While we wait for our new president, Dr. Jermaine Williams, to take office, I want to end this semester by saying thank you to all the members of the NCCFT for your professionalism, commitment, and perseverance. I also want to thank Dr. Hubert Keen for making our recovery possible and for pointing us in the right direction for our future. Let us all take a moment to contact him and wish him the very best “retirement.”
Have a safe, healthy, and fun summer.