Dowling College professors struggle to secure employment after abrupt closing

The Dowling College Rudolph Campus, above, remains empty on Sept. 9 after the school's closing. The school was open for 48 years before running into financial problems.The Dowling College Rudolph Campus, above, remains empty on Sept. 9 after the school's closing. The school was open for 48 years before running into financial problems.

By Michaela Kilgallen and Kara Burnett

Former Dowling College professors are still looking for full-time employment after they were left jobless in June following the school’s closing.

Leading up to May 31 the day staff members were told to be out of the college by June 1 faculty had taken pay cuts and retirement cuts in an attempt to keep the school afloat.

“We were given one day notice,” 24 year Dowling Chemistry Professor Lori Zaikowski said.

Ultimately, the cuts were not enough to offset the school’s $54 million debt, and New York State United Teachers has filed a demand for arbitration against the school claiming that Dowling is in violation of their contract, which guaranteed 10 months of severance pay. The 47 staff members represented in the litigation also claim that the school neglected payments to Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co. in the faculty’s self-funded healthcare plan.

“The administration’s mismanagement of college finances victimized faculty and students,” NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn said.

Zaikowski said she has been offered a tenured teaching job at another Long Island college she declined to say where because the paperwork is not yet finalized — but finding new positions has not been easy for anyone. The directory on the Dowling College website lists over 800 faculty members, and Korn said about 400 professors were left unemployed after the closing.

Often, colleges and universities put out job listings one year in advance. Finding a full-time job in three months, as Zaikowski did, is quite uncommon. Dowling alumni, Educational Leadership Assistant Superintendent and Stony Brook professor Dr. Joseph Centamore said the needs of each school will determine the number of job openings.

“I think that in terms of people with professional areas of expertise, I think there will always be opportunity in the field of education for some adjunct opportunities,” Centamore said. “But certainly some of the more regular positions may present […] a challenge.”

Dr. Christopher Boyko spent five years teaching Biology at Dowling. He has also found full-time employment as a lab technician at Hofstra University and teaches part-time at the school, but it’s not what he plans to do long-term. Even so, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.

“The vast majority of faculty have either no work or are only teaching adjunct,” he said.

Other Long Island colleges have hired former Dowling faculty including Molloy College in Rockville Centre. Molloy began employing professors from Dowling since early rumblings of financial struggles.

“We’ve already hired a lot of Dowling professors over the last two years,” Molloy President Dr. Drew Bogner said. “We hired another since everything happened.”

Dr. John Tanacredi, Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and Director of The Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring, is one of those professors. After being hired by Dowling in 2001, he left in September 2013 to teach at Molloy.

Even in the years leading up to the school’s closing, it was obvious to Tanacredi that Dowling was in an academic and economic decline.

“The resources at Dowling were diminishing quite a bit,” he said.

Tanacredi left Dowling voluntarily to pursue better opportunities, but some faculty members were forced to find alternate employment when Dowling President Dr. Albert Inserra announced the school’s closing and subsequent faculty layoffs.

The official closure date was postponed twice, according to story published Aug. 10 by Newsday. College officials, the article said, fought to keep the school open through a partnership with a foreign educational investment company called Global University Systems. GUS pulled out later that summer. It wasn’t until Dowling officially lost accreditation from the Middle States Commission that the administration was forced to close the doors.

Bogner then agreed to establish Molloy College as Dowling’s designated teach-out school. According Bogner, 83 Dowling students graduated this summer and 120 are currently enrolled.

With only one year left until graduation, former Dowling student and Earth Science Major Unique Johnson struggled to transfer.

“With a rolling admissions deadline of June 1st, it made it hard to apply to other universities,” she said. “It was like applying to college all over again.”

Unlike some of her classmates, Johnson has found an alternative school. She is currently finishing her senior year at SUNY Fredonia. Students and faculty have both been forced to look outside of Long Island for potential schools.

“They had to drop everything and run because they needed a job,” Boyko said. “I’d like to stay local if I can.”

He’s unsure if that’s a possibility at this point.