The resignation of John F. Schwaller as SUNY Potsdams president creates a timely opening for the State University of New York trustees to move forward on a stalled plan for a shared presidency between Potsdam and SUNY Canton. Mr. Schwaller unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he would step down from his post July 31 after seven years in office.
For more than a year now, controversy has swirled around SUNY Centrals plan to consolidate administrative functions systemwide to shift strained resources away from administrative costs to student services. Three shared presidencies were proposed among a half-dozen campuses. However, the Potsdam-Canton plan was nixed after encountering resistance particularly from the Canton community with loyalty to its former president Joseph L. Kennedy. He retired at the end of August after 19 years in office, and SUNY officials have held off initiating a search for his successor.
Mr. Schwallers departure will remove from the debate the personal loyalties that might be an obstacle to change, as even Mr. Schwaller alluded to in his comments, saying, 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.
Among the accomplishments cited by Mr. Schwaller were implementing a test-optional admissions policy that has increased freshman class enrollment and expanding opportunities for student studies abroad. New scholarships have resulted from increased charitable giving, and the college has created new research opportunities. They, however, were achieved during a much different fiscal environment. With budget constraints on the SUNY system, administrators are encouraging cost-cutting consolidations.
Under pressure from SUNY Central, the two colleges have made strides toward joint services. They share a chief financial officer, a military and veterans services coordinator and an interlibrary loan specialist and are working to consolidate other business office functions. They are also discussing a new building to serve as an Institute of Arts, Sciences and Technology. Those efforts, Mr. Schwaller pointed out, have become a model for the entire SUNY system.
However, he said, We must continue to build on the momentum.
SUNY Central with the cooperation of the Canton and Potsdam college communities can do that by taking the next step with a shared presidency. It is an opportunity to do it in the most efficient manner possible and to structure the job to meet the colleges needs rather than those of special interests.