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Trustees to discuss Schwaller resignation; shared presidency concerns renewed

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POTSDAM — Though SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller announced his resignation Tuesday, officials in Albany will consider the vacancy next week, stoking fears of a shared presidency.

The SUNY board of trustees is likely to take up the issue at its meeting Wednesday, spokesman David M. Belsky said.

“The truth is the impending presidential vacancy at Potsdam will be discussed by the trustees at their upcoming meeting,” he said. “We won’t know anything until then.”

Mr. Schwaller’s departure, effective July 31, comes after a tumultuous period for SUNY Potsdam and neighboring SUNY Canton. Last year, SUNY Central promoted a shared-services initiative that would consolidate administration at the schools. SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy was asked to step down, and Mr. Schwaller would serve as president of both campuses.

After SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy stepped down at the end of August, SUNY Central stepped back from the shared presidency after protests from the Canton College community, appointing Carli S. Schiffner to the Canton post in the interim. Despite requests from college officials, the state has not yet authorized a search for a permanent replacement.

Now, Mr. Schwaller’s resignation rekindles concerns about consolidation.

Earlier this month, SUNY Central spokesman David D. Doyle said SUNY Canton’s vacant presidency also would be discussed at next week’s board of trustees meeting, raising questions of whether the new hire will serve as president of both campuses.

SUNY Canton College Council Chairman Ronald M. O’Neill is uncertain about the new vacancy.

“We have no idea how this latest development may or may not impact SUNY Canton,” he said. “There is no agenda posted on the SUNY website regarding the trustees’ upcoming December board meeting, so we do not even know if it will be a topic of discussion then.”

Mr. Belsky said there is no timeline for finding a new president when vacancies occur, but the process is straightforward. Typically, SUNY college councils form a search committee to initiate the search.

SUNY Potsdam College Council Chairman Roger B. Linden said Tuesday he will call a special meeting of the council to address the issue.

Then, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher will appoint a representative to the committee and give permission for the recruitment to begin, SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs said.

“As you know, we can’t just begin the search for a new president,” she said. “There is a process that we have to go through and we need approval from SUNY Central.”

At neighboring SUNY Canton, Mr. O’Neill is still waiting to begin his presidential search, though SUNY Central has known of the vacancy since August 2011.

“The Canton College Council continues to be greatly concerned about the future of our presidency,” he said. “Despite our search committee having been duly constituted according to SUNY Central guidelines for more than 14 months, we have still not been authorized by the chancellor to begin our presidential search.”

In the meantime, questions remain about Mr. Schwaller’s sudden and surprising resignation.

He was unavailable for comment Wednesday, SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs said.

“This is a sensitive time for him,” she said. “There will, of course, be a point where he will talk more about this.”

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