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Ritchie to reintroduce SUNY presidency legislation

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POTSDAM - As questions loom over the future of presidencies at SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam, one area legislator is ready to revive legislation making sure each campus retains its own unique president.

State Senator Patricia A. Ritchie said she will introduce a bill mandating a single president for every campus during the next legislative session.

“I will be introducing that legislation this session,” Ms. Ritchie said. “I’m hopeful that there will be a president in place some time in the future.”

Ms. Ritchie said she was concerned that the office of SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the board of trustees has changed financial and administrative requirements for the campuses.

“Based on the data provided to the SUNY Vice Chancellor, they have actually exceeded the board of trustees requirements,” she said. “I want to make sure their progress is recognized.”

Her concerns have been echoed by Canton town officials and SUNY Canton College Council Chairman Ronald M. O’Neill.

“I can’t speak about SUNY Potsdam’s progress but can say our campus is confident we have exceeded the trustees’ benchmark,” he said. “Therefore we again call on the Chancellor and trustees to allow us to begin the search for a new president without further delay.”

Last week, SUNY Vice Chancellor for Financial Services Brian G. Hutzley said the campuses have not made enough progress to permit the presidential searches to begin.

David D. Doyle, SUNY spokesman, echoed that statement.

“The fact of the matter is these benchmarks have not been met, this is an indisputable fact and those suggesting otherwise are misinformed or just plain wrong,” he said. “These campuses have made tremendous progress but have yet to reach necessary benchmarks. They are moving strongly in that direction, but work remains.”

In November 2011, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution requiring SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam to show either a 10 percentage point increase in spending devoted to instruction or that over 52 percent of their total budget goes directly to instructional spending, and fully align 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,” and required the schools to plan for shared computing services.

In a July report to the Board of Trustees, both campuses argued that they exceeded the financial benchmarks and made ‘significant progress’ toward shared administration.

“SUNY Canton submitted budget information in our July joint report showing that we were already spending 62.2 percent of our budget in the category ‘Direct Impact to Students,’” Mr. O’Neill said. “I suggest Vice Chancellor Hutzley re-read the resolution passed by the SUNY Board of Trustees in November 2011.”

After the July report was filed, the SUNY Canton College Council passed a resolution requesting permission to begin its presidential search — but still awaits word from the chancellor.

Mr. Doyle, speaking on behalf of SUNY, said the sticking point remains shared administrative services, not the distribution of budget funds. Until the schools make more progress merging their back-office operations, the chancellor would not make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees regarding either campus’s presidency.

“No decisions have been made regarding presidential searches for at Canton or Potsdam at this time,” Mr. Doyle said. “Potsdam and Canton have indicated to us that they want to stay the course and continue the momentum — and SUNY is supportive of these efforts.”

Both SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller and interim SUNY Canton President Carli S. Schiffner acknowledge that both campuses have work to do.

“SUNY Canton continues to work with both SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Central to optimize our shared services opportunities and develop a clear picture of expectations and benchmarks,” Ms. Schiffner wrote in a statement. “We’ve made significant strides in a short period of time, and we’ll continue to work diligently to achieve all goals set for us.”

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