POTSDAM - Saying the time is right for new leadership, SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller announced Tuesday his decision to step down from the colleges top position.
Few details about the surprise announcement were released by the college and Mr. Schwaller declined to respond to questions about his resignation, effective July 31.
The news has prompted questions about whether officials at SUNY Central, Albany, will try to save money by having one president oversee both SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam. Mr. Schwallers annual salary is $193,600.
That concept has drawn strong opposition from SUNY Canton officials, but less resistance from SUNY Potsdam.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said shes concerned that the neighboring SUNY colleges will both be left without a permanent president. Carli C. Schiffner is serving as SUNY Cantons interim president, and the college has not launched a search for a new one.
I was very surprised to hear the announcement, Ms. Ritchie said. I continue to have concerns about both colleges. Now that theres no permanent leadership at either of the colleges, thats a real concern for me.
In a three-page letter to his colleagues, Mr. Schwaller, 64, said leaving the post hes held since March 2006 will allow the college to progress during a challenging financial time.
The financial status of SUNY Potsdam is stable, yet fragile, he wrote. As a result of the new budget reality caused by the downturn in the state and national economy, the campus will be even more dependent on enrollment, and thus must focus and redouble efforts on recruitment and retention of undergraduate and graduate students.
During an afternoon news conference, SUNY Potsdam College Council President Roger B. Linden and College Provost Margaret E. Madden said it was premature to discuss whether the college will ask SUNY Central officials to allow the college to launch a search for a new president.
College Council Chair Roger B. Linden said he will call a special meeting for the seven-member Potsdam College Council to discuss the development and it would be inappropriate to speculate about possible decisions.
We will certainly be having discussions about it, he said. The next formal step is to advise the (SUNY) chancellor that we have a vacancy.
Mr. Linden said he had heard musings from Mr. Schwaller about possibly resigning from his job, but only learned Monday that the decision had been reached.
He noted that Mr. Schwallers nearly seven years at the college is longer than most presidents serve.
Ms. Madden, who also serves as the colleges vice president of advancement, said she was not expecting Mr. Schwallers resignation.
I was surprised, but in higher education these transitions happen, she said.
Ms. Madden credited the president for initiating the hand-crafted education concept, developing the colleges arts program and spearheading the new performance arts building. His departure will not jeopardize the colleges core mission, she said.
The fundamental quality of the campus has remained the same for decades, Ms. Madden said. I dont think a change in leadership will change that.
Mr. Schwaller said its important for SUNY Potsdam to capitilize on the shared services initiative with neighboring SUNY Canton, which he said has already been a successful model for the entire SUNY system.
The two colleges now share some staff members including a joint financial officer, a shared military and veterans services coordinator and an inter-library loan specialist. The campuses are working to consolidate business and information systems in major areas such as registrar and accounts payable.
We need to change the conversation from one focused on individuals and personalities, to one focused on opportunities, a change from arguments about what campuses have done or have been in the past to what the future will look like, Mr. Schwaller wrote.
Shared services offers a unique opportunity to both reduce overhead costs through a single administration shared by Potsdam and Canton, Mr. Schwaller said in his letter.
Ms. Schiffner said shes enjoyed working with Mr. Schwaller over the past several months as the two colleges continue to work closely together to share services and create efficiencies.
I applaud President Schwallers accomplishments and leadership during his tenure, Ms. Schiffner said in an email. He has been a leader in our efforts to share services and has helped SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton to become, in many ways, a terrific example of the tremendous benefits of cooperation and teamwork.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher commented on the news in a prepared statement.
President Schwaller has been a partner in our shared service initiatives and his contributions have helped make the collaboration between Potsdam and Canton a model for the entire SUNY System, she said.