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SUNY Potsdam to get interim president separate from SUNY Canton

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CANTON — SUNY officials have responded to concerns that two St. Lawrence County campuses will share a president by announcing they will appoint a unique interim president for SUNY Potsdam and each campus will have a say in its presidency’s future.

SUNY spokesman David D. Doyle said the board of trustees could announce an interim replacement for outgoing SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller as soon as January.

“SUNY as early as January is going to appoint an interim to succeed Dr. Schwaller,” he said. “That interim will be just for Potsdam. There will be no appointment of a joint president at this time.”

Mr. Doyle emphasized the campuses will work for another year to merge their administrative services, meaning a more permanent decision on the presidencies’ future might not come for another year.

“The question of a shared president will not be addressed for at least a year because the campuses have asked for more time,” he said. “There will be an interim in Potsdam, there will be an interim in Canton and we will revisit this in a year.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a statement by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, who announced Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher would allow SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam to conduct separate presidential searches if they wish.

“She said the administrations asked for more time to achieve greater efficiencies,” said Mrs. Russell, D-Theresa. “After more progress is made, if both colleges wish to conduct separate presidential searches, Chancellor Zimpher would make a recommendation to the trustees.”

Mrs. Russell said both campuses agree more progress is needed on shared services before they determine whether to proceed with a shared presidency.

“Every indication is that they are doing very well, but I think it’s important that the two campuses do continue to try to find more savings,” she said. “It is my hope that if they are able to find more efficiencies, that will quicken the timeline for SUNY to allow the search.”

Last year, Chancellor Zimpher and SUNY trustees considered a plan to combine the presidencies of the Canton and Potsdam campuses. After resistance from the colleges and community members, the plan was scrapped. When Mr. Schwaller announced he was stepping down last month, the decision’s timing resurrected concerns that SUNY might have requested the resignation to install a joint president.

SUNY Canton College Council Chairman Ronald M. O’Neill, a steadfast critic of the shared presidency plan, said he still supported legislation written by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, that would mandate each campus retain a unique president.

“Senator Ritchie’s bill would legislatively ensure that once and for all the ill-conceived plan for shared presidencies will not happen,” he said. “Unfortunately, this latest development sounds like more double speak from SUNY Central and no concrete action for us to move ahead.”

Canton Town Supervisor David T. Button expressed cautious optimism.

“I’m pleased that SUNY Central has finally seen what all of us in Northern New York have observed firsthand,” he said. “I do think that a wait of as much as a year before the search for a president begins is a bit much.”

Mr. Button helped spearhead a community effort to keep a unique president for SUNY Canton after it was announced in 2011 that Joseph L. Kennedy would step down from the post.

Those advocacy efforts will not end with SUNY’s most recent announcements, Mr. Button said.

“To delay the search any longer might work against all of the great things this institution has been doing,” he said. “We probably will carry on further discussions with our friends in Albany to make sure that this search is not unnecessarily slowed.”

Mr. O’Neill said his council would remain vigilant despite support from Mr. Schwaller and SUNY Canton interim President Carli S. Schiffner for Chancellor Zimpher’s plan.

“In the current environment, it is preposterous to think that members of the campus administration are free to express their feelings without fear of retaliation,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Therefore, the College Council and other campus constituencies will continue to speak out and call on the chancellor and board to allow us to begin a presidential search as quickly as possible.”

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