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SUNY Potsdam needs to work on image, incoming president says


POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam needs to improve its image, incoming interim President Dennis L. Hefner told the college council Friday.

“There are a lot of good things happening here on the Potsdam campus. We need to return our attention to those accomplishments,” he said.

Mr. Hefner will take over as interim president on June 1. He met with college council members Friday to learn more about the school and answer any questions they may have for him. During the meeting, Mr. Hefner said the public image of St. Lawrence County’s two SUNY colleges has been defined by uncertainty about leadership and squabbles over shared services. The reality, he said, is not that bad.

“What people are hearing right now is that Potsdam and Canton are in turmoil. I don’t think there’s that much turmoil,” he said.

Mr. Hefner told the council that shared services provide savings to colleges, and should be seen as a “non-issue.”

Council members agreed that shared services are not a problem, as long as the individual identity of the college can be maintained.

“This council is not against shared services for things that make sense. It never has been. But many of us have strong opinions about shared presidencies,” said council member June F. O’Neill.

Mr. Hefner said by changing the conversation from struggles to accomplishments, SUNY Potsdam has a better chance of recruiting a quality full-time president. Mr. Hefner, who retired as president of SUNY Fredonia last year, will only stay on until a full-time replacement is found.

“We need to be very conscious of the public image we are putting out in the higher education community,” he said.

Mr. Hefner said he plans to use the contacts he has made in a lifetime of work in higher education to help the college find a new president.

In the meantime, he said, he wants to work to increase enrollment and educational opportunities for students.

“I don’t like to tread water. I don’t intend to tread water. But I’m not going to make any wild and crazy changes,” he said.

The similarities between Potsdam and Fredonia were highlighted during the meeting. Both are comprehensive colleges with a strong focus on the arts, geographically isolated from Albany and populated mostly by students from out of town.

Outgoing college President John F. Schwaller addressed the board at the start of the meeting, speaking highly of Mr. Hefner’s experience and abilities.

“If a person could choose who his successor is, I could not have chosen any better,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Hefner met with students and with the heads of the major college divisions. He said he will soon start searching for a place to live in the Potsdam area to begin the move from his North Carolina home.

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