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After 19 years, Kennedy steps down as SUNY Canton president

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CANTON — Today is Joseph L. Kennedy’s last day as SUNY Canton president, and he isn’t in town to enjoy the congratulations and well-wishes that would normally accompany the occasion.

For Mr. Kennedy, who is stepping down to become an adviser to SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher on shared services, that there will be no fanfare at the end of his presidency is fine.

“I specifically asked to not have things like that,” he said. “It is just me, I want to walk out the door feeling good about what has happened and let the college move on.”

After 19 years as the college’s president, Mr. Kennedy feels assured that his record speaks for itself. When he arrived on campus in 1993, the school, then called the Canton College of Technology, offered an array of two-year associates degrees and one-year certificates.

Under his leadership, the school has grown to offer 21 bachelor degrees, with enrollment more than doubling from 1,800 in 1993 to more than 4,000 this fall. The campus has been transformed as well, adding new student dorms, laboratories, classrooms and athletics facilities.

“I think the thing that I am most pleased about is the way the faculty and staff through the years have responded to help the college grow, to help the college emerge from what it was to where it is now,” said Mr. Kennedy.

Maureen P. Maiocco, interim dean of the School of Business and Liberal Arts, credits Mr. Kennedy’s entrepreneurial spirit for the college’s success.

“He supported any new initiative,” she said. “His philosophy was ‘we try it, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but we have to try.’”

Mr. Kennedy and his staff also set new benchmarks for fundraising on the campus, which before he arrived had never received a six-digit donation. At his retirement, the school has received eight gifts of $1 million or more.

“He’s resurrected Canton from a SUNY school that looks like it was destined to close to one of the more active and vibrant SUNYs in the system, I think morale has been good,” said D. Anthony Beane, professor of veterinary science. “He has made this a shining star in the north country, where we have added new programs and buildings.”

Mr. Kennedy has also witnessed a growth in the school’s online course offerings.

“We offer the second highest number of courses online in the entire university,” he said. “We have eight complete four-year degrees online. I would imagine the college will continue to pursue that aggressively.”

Last summer, it looked like Mr. Kennedy would be forced into an early retirement as SUNY Central sought to impose a shared executive on SUNY Canton and nearby SUNY Potsdam, however, after outcry from the campus, community and political leaders, he was allowed to stay.

“I believe that President Kennedy has done a phenomenal job at SUNY Canton,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “It is shown by his support from faculty, students and especially the community.”

Mr. Kennedy acknowledged that his departure leaves questions as to where SUNY Canton will be in the future. SUNY Central announced Provost Carli C. Schiffner as the school’s interim president, but no announcement has been made about the selection of a new president.

“There’s really no predicting what happens, in a way,” he said. “If SUNY settles down or if there is a leadership issue that arises, we can’t know.”

Mr. Beane held out hope that the school’s progress would continue, at least for the short term.

“We have an interim president with Carli Schiffner. I think things are going to continue as they have been with the impetus that we’ve had,” he said. “Until we find out whether she is permanent, things are kind of up in the air for the future.”

Under an August 2011 deal with SUNY Central, Mr. Kennedy will retire effective today to become an adviser to the chancellor. After serving a year as Mrs. Zimpher’s adviser, Mr. Kennedy will take a year sabbatical. Upon his return, he hopes to come back to Canton as a member of the faculty.

“Canton is the only place that I’ve experienced a sense of community where there really is a feeling that we’re not in this by ourselves, but we’re all in it together,” he said. “I like being able to sit down to eat somewhere and talk to five or six different people about what their day was like.”

On campus and around Canton, Mr. Kennedy has built a reputation as an approachable, talkative and friendly man, Mr. Beane said.

“He’s a very friendly, easy to talk with person, a people person,” he said.

Mrs. Maiocco recalls Mr. Kennedy making her feel welcome during her first weeks on campus.

“He made a point to always stop in my office and share stories and see how I was,” she said. “During those first few months, to me he was almost a father figure. I didn’t ever tell him those things, he just had the ability to sense that I needed a little extra conversation and attention. He probably took an interest in everybody, but I felt special.”

Before coming to Canton, Mr. Kennedy spent three years as vice president for academic affairs at William Woods University in Fulton, Mo. Previously, he was dean of academic affairs at Vermont’s Johnson State College. From 1978 to 1984 he was director of liberal studies at Western Montana College of the University of Montana. He served earlier as director of the Pyramid Lake Ecological Studies in Reno, Nev., and as assistant professor of biology at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Ga.

Mr. Kennedy received a bachelor of science in biology from North Georgia College, a master of science in entomology from Clemson University and a Ph.D. in wildlife resource management from Utah State University.

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