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Sen. Ritchie introduces bill requiring one president per SUNY campus

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As promised, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie has introduced a bill requiring each SUNY campus to have its own president.

The move comes amid a growing food fight between the State University of New York and allies of SUNY Canton president Joseph L. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy has resigned, effective spring 2012. When he steps down, SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller will take over both campuses.

The move has upset many, including Mrs. Ritchie, who argues that it will be tough to run both campuses with just one president.

“I’m fully supportive of consolidation and looking at every level,” said Mrs. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “But I believe each one of the colleges needs a president to help fundraise, to help with the college’s mission. Canton has flourished under Dr. Kennedy. I believe it’s important that somebody be at the helm of these colleges.”

Assemblyman William Magee, a Democrat from Nelson, will introduce the measure in the lower chamber. State Sen. David Valesky, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Oneida, has signed on as a co-sponsor.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she was unsure if she would support the measure because of a provision that would dramatically change the way in which university presidents are selected. As it stands, an advisory body called a college council makes a recommendation to the SUNY Board of Trustees on who should be president. Under Mrs. Ritchie’s proposal, the college council would have the power to accept or reject a selection as president.

“I have concerns about its viability of this legislation at all, because it really seeks to change the complete dynamic of how the SUNY system is run,” Mrs. Russell said. She added that she supports the idea of having one president per college campus, “but I’m not sure how viable the portion of this law would be that would completely change the dynamic of how the SUNY system selects its presidents.”

SUNY officials criticized the legislation.

“The steps that we’re taking are in the best interests of our students,” said SUNY spokesman Morgan W. Hook. “It seems that during the time of fiscal crisis, requiring by law the need to keep administrative officials, when the mission of SUNY is to educate students, seems counter-intuitive.”

Other colleges have failed to implement shared presidencies, but Mr. Hook said that comparing them to SUNY’s situation is like comparing apples and oranges.

“No other system has really tried anything like this,” Mr. Hook said. “We have to be innovative in how we’re going to approach SUNY’s broader budget problems. We’re taking our cue from the governor.”

He also said that other university heads oversee institutions with a vast portfolio of missions.

“This is not unusual in higher education, for one president to oversee two different schools that have very distinct missions,” Mr. Hook said.

Mr. Schwaller could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokesman for SUNY Canton directed comment to officials in SUNY’s central office.

Times staff writer Gabrielle Hovendon contributed to this report.

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