More than five months after the College of New Rochelle’s former President Judith Huntington stepped down from her position, the school is beginning the search for a permanent leader.
The college, which has been in the throes of a financial crisis since last fall, announced earlier this month that a 17-member search committee, one that includes students, alumni, parents, faculty and supporters, has been formed to find Huntington’s replacement.
Additionally, the committee includes representation from the founding order of the College, the Ursulines, and the Archdiocese of New York. According to Gwen Adolph, chair of the college’s board of trustees, the committee includes attorneys, corporate executives, clergy, healthcare professionals and educators.
“The installation of the 14th president of The College of New Rochelle will be one of the most determinative steps for our future,” Adolph said.
Former provost and senior vice president of academic affairs Dorothy Escribano has served as interim president since Huntington’s resignation in October.
The college expects the search for its 14th president will take eight to ten months and hopes to recommend a candidate to the board of trustees in early 2018. College officials are hopeful that a new president will be ready to begin by July 2018.
The search committee is led by board member Christine LaSala, an alumna who was elected to the college’s board of trustees in January.
A former chairperson of insurance and risk advisory company, Willis North America Inc., LaSala said the search will be both rigorous and transparent.
“We will cast as wide a net as necessary to identify the kinds of candidates we need,” added LaSala, who said she has completed hiring searches for both corporate executives and nonprofit leaders. “That is not to exclude internal candidates, but it will not be exclusively internal candidates by any means.”
The college will also enlist the assistance of an outside advisory firm, though that partner has yet to be selected.
“It will be the first body of work that the search committee undertakes,”LaSala said.
Another initial step for the committee will include meeting with various stakeholders – from graduates to students and faculty – to define a list of requirements for the position.
“I think that the college is going to need a very strong and visionary leader,” she said. “We’re setting the bar high for the kind of leader we will need.”
While the committee has yet to define those specific qualifications, LaSala said she believes the ideal candidate will be energetic and passionate about fulfilling the college’s mission.
“At the same time, the college is a business, and it’s a business that needs to be run in a very sophisticated, straightforward and disciplined way,” she said.
In October, trustees of the College of New Rochelle announced that a probe into its finances had found $20 million in unpaid payroll taxes spanning eight quarters since 2014 and an additional $11.2 million in debts and liabilities.
Following that discovery, the college appointed a special committee to oversee an investigation. The school named a chief restructuring officer from the New York City accounting firm Grassi and Associates to manage the college’s finances. Trustees also hired a forensic accountant, PKF O’Connor Davies, and the law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP to conduct the investigation.
LaSala said she feels “very good” about the steps the college has taken following the board’s discovery of the unpaid taxes in September.
“We’ve come through and clearly begun to turn the corner on the financial issues that the college faced in the fall,” she said. “We have now begun to take the steps and actions that are part of moving the college forward.”
LaSala said the timing of the committee’s search is appropriate, because after months of dealing with its ongoing financial crisis, the board has begun to turn its focus toward the future.
“Having gotten through the difficulties of late fall and early winter, there is a little bit of spring-like optimism and renewed energy and a discipline around the future that the college, the leader and its board are focused on,” she said.
Though enrollment figures for the school’s upcoming fall semester have yet to be seen, the number of accepted students to the college is up 20 percent and LaSala said the school feels “very good” about where enrollment stands.
The board is also in the midst of preparing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“It’s a budget that, knock on wood, is both positive in terms of cash flow and in the black,” she said. “Given the last several months, that is a very optimistic sign for the college but executing against that budget will take lots of rigor and discipline.”
Still, LaSala said the college continues to face business challenges that leaders and school officials will need to navigate.
“We will be in a cost-constrained and an expense-constrained environment for the near term, which I think is sort of inevitable given the crisis of the fall,” she said.
Though no details were given regarding whether layoffs would be part of those measures, LaSala believes the College of New Rochelle’s future will be a positive one.
“I’m hopeful, optimistic and fingers crossed,” she said.
Founded by Ursuline Sisters in 1904, The College of New Rochelle includes four schools: the School of Arts & Sciences, the School of Nursing and Health Care Professions, the Graduate School and the School of New Resources for adult learners. Its main campus is in New Rochelle, with five satellite campuses in the New York City boroughs. Formerly a women’s college, the school became fully coeducational in fall 2016.