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SUNY Canton, Potsdam have not met benchmarks, says SUNY Vice Chancellor

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Though a SUNY official lauded the Canton and Potsdam campuses for cutting costs by combining and sharing services, he said they still fall short of expectations and are not allowed yet to start searching for new presidents.

“Canton and Potsdam, for the record, have done an incredible job putting plans together to make this happen; they just aren’t done yet,” said Brian G. Hutzley, SUNY vice chancellor for financial services. He said the two schools have made progress diverting money from administration to educational expenses.

Last year, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher directed three pairs of SUNY campuses — Delhi and Morrisville; SUNY IT at Utica and Cobleskill; and Canton and Potsdam — to share more administrative services, including their presidencies.

SUNY Central stepped back from the Canton-Potsdam shared presidency after protests from the Canton college community. In a compromise, the schools were told that if they made measurable progress in sharing services, they could have their own presidents.

Mr. Hutzley referred to a November 2011 board of trustees resolution stating that the office of Chancellor Zimpher would help each campus search for its own unique president if the schools showed a 10 percentage point increase in the amount of their budget devoted directly to instructional spending and fully aligned their administrative staffs. The resolution set benchmarks for shared administration in areas “including but not limited to institutional research, human resources, finance, accounting, purchasing, billing, budget and facilities.”

SUNY’s role, Mr. Hutzley said, was to suggest ways to look at shared services and to ask that administrative costs to be reduced, not dictate how the colleges would do so.

“This whole process is campus-driven. SUNY has been a partner and an adviser,” he said. “The way that I look at it, you could have a lot of the administrative functions as a shared service, and that will work itself out. There are a lot of models out there about how you oversee them and how you charge for them.”

In July, the campuses submitted a report to the chancellor’s office showing some progress on the benchmarks.

At the board of trustees meeting last week, SUNY Provost David K. Lavallee said that the Delhi, Morrisville, Cobleskill and SUNY IT campuses would receive permission to start their presidential searches next year — but that SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam would have to wait.

“The campus’ recommendation is to work for further alignment of administrations between the two campuses over the next three years and SUNY system administration supports that goal,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Canton town officials lobbied the SUNY board of trustees, saying the school had met the shared services benchmarks, but Mr. Hutzley disputed that.

“They have not hit their benchmarks. People keep ignoring the specific things that were in the resolution. A few of those have gotten done,” he said. “For some reason, the folks at Canton keep stating it was five percent, but it was ten percent, and specific things need to be integrated.”

Mr. Hutzley said the board of trustees has not yet decided how to deal with the campuses’ presidencies going forward. He said he wasn’t sure whether the schools would share a president or not.

“That is a Board of Trustees decision,” he said.

At SUNY Canton, Carli S. Schiffner is serving as interim president after Joseph L. Kennedy stepped down in August. At SUNY Potsdam, President John F. Schwaller recently announced his retirement effective July 31.

At some point, SUNY will ask for a progress update on Canton and Potsdam shared services, at which time a decision might be made.

“There will definitely need to be another update and additional progress,” Mr. Hutzley said.

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