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SUNY Canton, Potsdam make strides toward combined operations

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CANTON — Despite their reticence to share a presidency, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam are taking great strides toward combined back-office operations.

A July 15 report by the SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam Shared Services Committee cites examples in the school’s hiring practices, libraries and information technology.

“The report is a terrific step forward in achieving and even exceeding the goals set forth by SUNY and the SUNY Board of Trustees,” said Randy B. Sieminski, SUNY Canton assistant vice president for advancement. “We are pleased to be working closely with SUNY Potsdam and SUNY on a number of shared services opportunities to ensure future success of both colleges.”

The schools established a unified Executive Team comprised of the presidents and executive officers of both institutions to provide oversight of shared services. The report delivers a list of the team’s accomplishments.

In May, the schools hired their first joint-staff person, Veterans Affairs Officer Patrick S. Massaro, followed by the addition of shared Chief Financial Officer Natalie L. Higley.

Though those hires are the most visible examples of the schools’ efforts to share services, the report says their work has not stopped there. SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy said joint hires are far easier than making the operations of the campuses mesh.

“I think we are making some progress but we’re discovering this isn’t as easy and it won’t happen as quickly as we all hope,” he said. “I hope the report reflects that these things are well under way.”

The schools plan to hire a joint inter-library loan specialist and have taken steps to share resources in their library services, information technology, human resources, university police, campus life, payroll, purchasing and institutional research and effectiveness departments.

“We’ve started working on all levels on that,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The IT effort is well underway. They are meeting probably weekly working on that, and they are committed to hiring a shared person working on IT. Wrapped up in all of this is the library. They’ve committed to sharing a person between the two libraries.”

Mr. Kennedy said shared administration between the two schools would not take long.

“I think within a year our administrative services will be pretty close to fully integrated,” he said.

That optimism is shared at SUNY Potsdam.

“Potsdam is very aggressively pursuing everything that is in this report,” said Vicki Templeton-Cornell, SUNY Potsdam vice president for college advancement. “We plan to meet with Canton regularly and we’re starting with the leadership of both institutions meeting on a very regular basis to make sure everybody is meeting on all possibilities.”

In 2011, the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher required SUNY campuses to explore shared services to divert more funds from administration to student services, a goal both St. Lawrence County campuses have already met.

The report says each school exceeds the board’s requirement that they spend a minimum of 52 percent of their operating budget on instruction, academic support, clinical instruction, libraries, scholarships, fellowships and student services.

“This is just the first draft of a study at the outset of a long process to evaluate and implement shared services between SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton and other campuses,” SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs said. “The report certainly shows how much we have accomplished together already, but this effort is still very much a work in progress.”

In the 2010-11 school year, SUNY Canton reported spending 64 percent of its budget in those areas. The school expects additional faculty hires to meet SUNY Central standards for increasing that proportion.

In the same period, SUNY Potsdam calculated 65 percent of its budget was spent on services directly impacting students, a figure it believes is under reported.

“SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam have already demonstrated shared savings at the administrative and academic levels exceeding the threshold requested by the SUNY Board of Trustees,” the report said.

Despite the favorable numbers, the SUNY Board of Trustees and the Chancellor’s office continue to push the schools to share more services. SUNY Central spokesperson David Doyle said the report is an early component of a broad, long-term planning process.

“These reports reflect the work and ideas of a broad group of stakeholders and constituencies on these campuses to achieve the goals of shared services in order to benefit SUNY’s students,” he said. “The reports will be assessed by the Chancellor’s executive committee and meetings will be held with respective campus leaders to fully review each document before any potential recommendations or feedback is provided to the Board.

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