August 6, 2009

Chancellor wants united SUNY image


PLATTSBURGH — The State University of New York is an accessible, affordable route to quality, says its new chancellor, Dr. Nancy Zimpher.

The problem, or at least one of them, is that there appears to be a scattered view among the public of what SUNY is.

During a visit with the Press-Republican's Editorial Board, Zimpher said she is examining what can be done to create a SUNY message that supports the Plattsburgh mission.

"How can we find the sweet spot between SUNY and Plattsburgh that is going to serve the state of New York and the Plattsburgh region and put it all together?"

SUNY's first female chancellor is on a 64-campus tour during her first 100 days in office as a first step to create a SUNY-wide strategic plan that is expected to be completed in the spring.

She and her team will gather suggestions, ideas and comments from stakeholders to help draft "the most comprehensive, inclusive and transparent strategic planning process in SUNY's 60-year history," she said.

Perceptions about SUNY are mixed, Zimpher said, and her intuition is "we have not said enough about what the whole is about.

"I want to see what Plattsburgh does for this area," she added.

So far, Zimpher said, SUNY's efforts to convince the State Legislature of its importance have failed.

She said SUNY must be clear about what it will do for the state's economy instead of trying to wrestle control from one hand to another.

"We need a better mechanism for showing the state what we are doing for economic growth and what we will do in the future."

Better-educated people means healthier children, more civic citizens and less reliance on social services, she noted.

As part of her efforts, Zimpher plans to place some of her focus on science. SUNY will receive more federal dollars by increasing dialogue between medical schools and research centers in the fields of medical science and energy.

"Working together is the answer for us," Zimpher said. "I think we might be a new model because we are a collaborative model."

She wants to create collaborations around key disciplines.

"With SUNY, we will be highly focused and selective about the disciplines we pursue, and we will work to break into the top echelons of those disciplines."

During her SUNY-wide tour, Zimpher has seen some "extraordinary" environmental initiatives on individual college campuses. She thinks SUNY could be the "green machine" of New York.

"I think we are more exemplary than people realize, and we are doing it not just for our campus but our community."

She doesn't think SUNY is getting the message out to the public about its environmental initiatives.

While universities such as Plattsburgh State excel at attracting underrepresented populations from around the state and globe, SUNY as a whole lacks diverse leadership, Zimpher said.

"We are much more challenged at faculty levels and administration" than with the student body.

The university system must also improve its data system and better track students, though Zimpher said efforts there are already under way.

Overall, she's been impressed by what she has seen.

"I have been especially encouraged by the role SUNY campuses are playing in the economic and cultural revival of the state of New York. Something really powerful is happening here for this part of the North Country."

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