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SUNY Potsdam President Schwaller says resignation decision was his own

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POTSDAM — When John F. Schwaller steps down next July, he will end his tenure as SUNY Potsdam president on his own terms.

Mr. Schwaller put to rest rumors about the reasons for his resignation Monday afternoon.

“I’m resigning, and the only person who made that decision was me,” he said.

The decision’s timing resurrected concerns that SUNY might have requested Mr. Schwaller’s resignation to install a joint president for SUNY Potsdam and its neighboring campus in Canton. Last year, SUNY mulled naming Mr. Schwaller president of both campuses. SUNY Canton is still without a permanent president.

“No one factor led to my decision,” he said. “I came to the decision that for the good of the college, it was time for me to step down.”

After seven years as president, Mr. Schwaller said SUNY Potsdam might be better served by a change, noting that he has outlasted the average college president’s tenure by two years.

“It will be helpful to have new leadership and another set of eyes on campus,” he said. “I would like to say that they don’t need me anymore.”

Mr. Schwaller dismissed rumors that he had been offered a teaching position on another SUNY campus.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next. There are lots of options out there,” he said. “The calendar tells me I am 65 in July, if I wanted to retire, I could.”

Though retirement is an option, Mr. Schwaller said he would like to return to the classroom.

“I love to teach,” he said. “I love to study Mexico in the 16th century. I am exploring all of my options.”

He dispelled rumors that he was stepping down due to his health.

“I’m as healthy as a horse,” he said. “Probably more healthy than some horses.”

Mr. Schwaller said he would not remain in Potsdam.

“It is a wonderful place to live, but I will not stay in Potsdam and that’s hard,” he said.

Since arriving at SUNY Potsdam in 2006, Mr. Schwaller invigorated the school’s students-first approach to higher education.

“I brought this concept of a hand-crafted education,” he said. “It was already here, it was not unique to me, I just gave it a name — and once we named it, we could claim it.”

Mr. Schwaller named expanded faculty-mentored undergraduate research and high levels of teacher-student interaction as hallmarks of the SUNY Potsdam experience.

“The school has momentum as a result of focusing on student learning,” he said. “The college will continue to grow and prosper.”

Mr. Schwaller also touted increasing diversity among the school’s enrollment and faculty.

“I am proud of that. We made tremendous strides,” he said.

The school is also growing, with a $48 million performing arts building slated to open next year.

“We’ve seen growth in the arts, but most of the sciences have also seen growth,” said Mr. Schwaller.

Though he sounded a positive tone Monday, Mr. Schwaller demurred from making predictions about the school’s future.

“As a historian, I’m much more comfortable looking backwards, but I’m very optimistic,” he said.

Mr. Schwaller said he didn’t know if the school would retain its own unique president after he stepped down, or whether a shared presidency would be announced.

“My crystal ball is broken,” he said. “I don’t know what (Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher) and the board of trustees will decide.”

SUNY Potsdam’s next leader will inherit challenges and opportunities, said Mr. Schwaller.

“I am not SUNY Potsdam,” he said. “This place has been around 200 years... it has had 15 presidents, and it will continue on through another series of presidents. It will continue to be a strong institution.”

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