Education Update

Ousted RCC President Dr. Rápalo Negotiating Departure; Dominican University New York Names Dr. Manuel Martinez New President

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Dr. Lester Edgardo Sandres Rápalo Is Negotiating Terms of Departure with Rockland Community College

Dr. Lester Edgardo Sandres Rápalo and the Board of Trustees of Rockland Community College have agreed to “part ways,” according to a press statement and a direct quote from the former college president. But at least one insider with knowledge of the situation said the former embroiled college leader was shown the door.

“He didn’t leave on his own accord,” said a source familiar with the rupture.

On Tuesday, Rápalo said, “It was a mutually agreed upon decision, but I can’t disclose anything because of the legal ramifications.”

Rápalo’s chief of staff, Irene Delgado has also left the college.

Sources have confirmed that “internal litigation” has begun over the President’s departure.  Rápalo’s chief of staff has also left the college. The former president had a five-year contract, which could be “terminated for cause,” said a source, adding that breaking the contract would trigger a six-month severance clause. According to documents on the SUNY website, Dr. Rápalo annual salary was $250,000.

“I have nothing negative to say about the college,” Rápalo added.

Beth Coyle, who served as RCC’s vice president of operations until 2023, has been made Officer in Charge.

Rápalo began his job 11 months ago. Campus News had interviewed him this past fall, as he’d started his first semester at RCC, and he spoke of increasing enrollment and helping more students graduate. Also, a press release from the college last fall touted an enrollment increase at the college, with 6000 total students.

However, budget deficits and a no confidence vote by faculty as positions were cut plagued the college.

“The Board is now focused on ensuring a seamless leadership transition,” according to a press statement issued by the college.  “Effective immediately Beth Coyle Ed.D. will assume the position of Officer in Charge. Beth Coyle served as Vice President of Operations at RCC from 2018 to 2023. She is an experienced leader and educator with expertise in a variety of senior-level academic and operational leadership posts and has a deep understanding of the College.”

Virginia Melendez Ed.D., who has been serving as Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at RCC, will assume the role of Chief of Staff.”

The announcement was made around 7 p.m. last Friday. The board held an emergency meeting in executive session around 3 p.m.

A source said Rápalo was “walked out of the building.”

Board member Grant Valentine said he could not discuss the details of the litigation but added, “It’s a sad day.”

RCC has been grappling with steep budget shortfalls, furloughs, hiring freezes, layoffs, and falling enrollment. In response to cost-cutting measures and what many say is an unwelcome change in management style, the 43-member Faculty Senate last April issued a resolution calling for RCC’s Board of Trustees to remove Rápalo from office as college President, alleging financial mismanagement, communication failures, and lack of leadership and professionalism on the part of the administration. Senate Faculty President Eric Magaram presented a “no-confidence” resolution, unanimously adopted by the Senate, to the Board of Trustees at their March 25 meeting at RCC’s Ellipse. The resolution calls for SUNY to appoint an interim officer to steer the college.

At the time, the Board of Trustees appeared to be standing behind Rápalo, who was appointed president on July 1, 2023.

Dominican University New York Names Dr. Manuel Martinez New President

Dominican University New York has named Dr. Manuel Martínez, Ph.D., as the new president of the University, effective July 15, 2024.  Martínez replaces Sr. Mary Eileen O’Brien, O.P., Ph.D., who retired as of January 1, 2024, after serving two separate terms as president, for a total of 35 years.

After Sr. Mary Eileen announced her retirement, the Dominican University Board of Trustees launched a nationwide search for a new president, with the help of the professional search firm AGB Search, and tapped Sr. Mary Hughes, O.P., Ed.D., to serve as interim president, while a permanent replacement was chosen.

“We are grateful that talented candidates from all over the country applied for the position and were interested in guiding Dominican University into the future,” said Steven Sabatini, Chair, Dominican University New York Board of Trustees. “Dr. Martínez rose to the top of the candidates because of his impressive academic and administrative experience in higher education and his knowledge of and commitment to a Dominican education.”

Martínez will be the first layperson to lead the University in its 72-year history. Since Dominican University New York was founded in 1952 as Dominican College, there have been five presidents who were all members of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt.

Martínez is the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Dean of Faculty at Mercy College of Ohio, a Catholic College which specializes in healthcare professions. Prior to Mercy College of Ohio in 2022, he spent 18 years at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, working his way up from an Instructor of Spanish to Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, and finally Vice President for Academic Affairs. He has extensive experience working on programs aimed at increasing enrollment. Martínez also understands the importance of balancing the benefits of a liberal arts education with workforce development.

“I am so honored and grateful to be chosen as the next president of Dominican University New York,” said Martínez. “When I spent time on campus recently, it was very clear to me that Dominican University is a very special, welcoming community that is centered on student outcomes. I have always believed that institutions of higher education must be student-centered to be successful.  For me, that means educating the whole person and providing both the professional, technical preparation and the soft skills that go hand in hand.”

Martínez holds a number of advanced academic degrees including: a Ph.D. in Spanish and Latin American Literature from the University of Cincinnati; a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Ohio Dominican University; a Master of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Literature from the University of Cincinnati; and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing from the University of Miami.

“I am delighted that Dr. Martínez has accepted the position of president and I feel confident leaving Dominican University in his hands.” said Sr. Hughes.  “Dr. Martínez is a terrific fit for this special community, and I believe the University will flourish under his leadership. He has extensive academic, enrollment, and financial experience, and is a genuine, thoughtful individual, as demonstrated during his meetings on campus. Since Dominican University is a Hispanic Serving Institution, it is also wonderful that Dr. Martínez understands the culture of many of our students and can communicate with their families in their native language.”  Sr. Hughes said she will remain in her role as interim president until July 15, and expects to work with him to ensure a seamless transition.