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SUNY Canton college council waiting on Albany for president search

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CANTON — Inaction may be the biggest form of action.

SUNY Canton College Council President Ronald M. O’Neill has known for more than a year that he would have to start the search for a new president for his campus, but today he still waits for authorization from Albany to begin.

“Our presidential search committee is still ready, willing and able to go ahead when we get the word from the chancellor,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We’re still waiting.”

At the beginning of August, Joseph L. Kennedy stepped down after 19 years as SUNY Canton president, replaced in the interim by former Provost Carli C. Schiffner. Mr. O’Neill said his request to start looking for a new president predated that event by almost a year.

Mr. O’Neill said the chancellor’s office required SUNY Canton and nearby SUNY Potsdam to meet benchmarks for shared services before his campus would be allowed to begin its search.

“Since we met those benchmarks, we were under the understanding that the chancellor would allow us to start our search,” he said. “We’ve met our part of the bargain. I would expect SUNY and the trustees would meet their part.”

Over the past year, the schools have aligned human resources, finance, accounting, purchasing, billing and budgeting services, largely under the auspices of joint Chief Financial Officer Natalie L. Higley. David D. Doyle, SUNY spokesman, said the chancellor’s office and board of trustees have remained engaged with SUNY Canton throughout the period.

“The process outlined by the board of trustees required a report and recommendation by July 15 with a discussion at the December board meeting,” he said. “The process has included face-to-face and several follow-up meetings with each of the campuses. Next steps will be discussed in December.”

As early as October 2011, Mr. O’Neill had organized a search committee, requesting Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher authorize the search and appoint a liaison to that committee.

However, more than a year later, the committee is left wondering when its search will begin.

Mr. O’Neill said the only response he has received from his requests to start the search came in a November 2011 letter from Ms. Zimpher, saying it was “premature” to form a search committee and begin the search.

For the SUNY Canton College Council, the delay raises questions about whether SUNY Central will let the campus retain its own president. Earlier this year, a report from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education said sharing presidencies between SUNY campuses could place the schools’ accreditation at risk.

The commission’s standards state that each accredited institution should have a chief executive officer “whose primary responsibility is to lead the institution toward the achievement of its goals and with responsibility for administration of the institution.”

If SUNY Canton loses its president, the impact could be felt beyond its accreditation. Fundraising almost certainly would take a hit, said David M. Gerlach, vice president for advancement.

“It would be a significant hurdle,” he said. “When Dr. Kennedy retired, we had a lot of push back and concern. It would be hard for me to know how severe the effect would be.”

SUNY Central did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday.

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