As promised, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie has introduced a bill requiring each SUNY campus to have its own president.
The move comes amid a growing food-fight between the State University of New York and allies of SUNY Canton president Joseph Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy resigned from office, effective spring 2012. When he steps down, SUNY Potsdam president John Schwaller will take over both campuses.
The move has upset many, including Mrs. Ritchie, who argues that it'll be tough to run both campuses with just one president.
“While I support the goal of maximizing the use of taxpayer and tuition dollars, and finding ways to share services and lower costs, combining the leadership of two colleges with vastly different missions and character goes a step too far,” Mrs. Ritchie said in a news release.
Assemblyman William Magee, a Democrat, will introduce the measure in the lower chamber. State Sen. David Valesky, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, has also signed on as a co-sponsor.
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she must review the legislation before signing on,
but said she was likely to do so.
SUNY officials criticized the move.
"The steps that we're taking are in the best interests of our students," said SUNY spokesman Morgan W. Hook. "It seems that during the time of fiscal crisis, requiring by law the need to keep administrative officials, when the mission of SUNY is to educate students, seems counter-intuitive."
Here's another interesting tidbit: The bill would allow each college council to accept or reject the president that SUNY Central picks for it. That gives the college councils broad and unprecedented power over the hiring process, and it's only tangentially related to this fight. Not only does each college get to have its own president under this bill; each college council would get to pick that president, too.
Mrs. Russell called just now to voice her concerns about this bit:
"The last section of this law goes much farther. I have concerns about its viability of this legislation at all, because it really seeks to change the complete dynamic of how the SUNY system is run, versus trying to keep things as they have been with just one president. It's got that aspect,which I can support, but I'm not sure how viable the portion of this law would be that would completely change the dynamic of how the SUNY system selects its presidents. I'll continue to work with SUNY to try to have a dialogue on our situation."
"I will commend (Mrs. Ritchie) for stepping out and presenting something bold, but I'm just concerned that this legislation won't be passed in time to address our situation."
This also comes in the wake of a very frank interview that Mr. Kennedy had with North Country Public Radio.
Asked if this was a "done deal," Mr. Kennedy said (among other things): "From my perspective, I have to treat it as such. But nothing is ever done until it's done. I think that the community will weigh in on this, I think that probably our elected officials will weigh in on this, and hopefully at some point the process will reach a conclusion. From my personal perspective, whatever conclusion we're going to reach, I want us we reach it soon. It's difficult to live in a situation without really a known trajectory. "
So my question is: How much longer will SUNY put up with Mr. Kennedy? The man is, after all, slated to go to work Chancellor Nancy Zimpher at the end of the school year, on an initiative that he's stridently pooh-poohing. Some other shoe has got to drop at some point.