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Surprise Resignation of SUNY Chancellor

Probably falling under the radar of most Cornellians today was the surprise announcement that SUNY Chancellor John Ryan will resign effective May 1st. By all accounts, Ryan was an effective chancellor and passionate advocate for higher education in the state. Reports the Associated Press:

Ryan was appointed by a board of trustees controlled by Pataki and the former Republican governor reappointed several SUNY trustees late in his term, assuring his appointees would control the board through Spitzer's first term. But Ryan shared many of Spitzer's goals for SUNY and hadn't been expected to leave with the change in governors...

In his budget address to the Legislature earlier this month, Ryan (lauded) Spitzer's support for the 64-school system and its future. Spitzer has created a Commission on Public Higher Education that is expected to help plan the future of SUNY and the City University of New York.

So at first glance, it doesn't seem that politics are involved. By all accounts, Spitzer and Ryan would have had a very good working relationship going forward.

Or maybe not.

Says SUNY Trustee Candace de Russy, a conservative Pataki appointee who probably isn't the biggest fan of Eliot Spitzer:

"It's surely a sign that Gov. Spitzer wants new leadership," said Trustee Candace de Russy, who has long sought more accountability for SUNY's academics and finances. "Chancellor Ryan, unfortunately, has been a quintessentially status quo chancellor."

But the announcement is a little bit odd, given that Ryan has only held the position for a little more than a year. Moreover, Ryan is moving on to become CEO of the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, a rather interesting career change, to say the least--especially for somebody who is respected in higher education circles. Perhaps it is a stepping stone to retirement for 62 year old Ryan.

So how does this all affect Cornell? I asked Ron Seeber, vice provost of land grant affairs for Cornell, about the surprise resignation. Seeber worked extensively with Ryan to secure a separate line of funding for Cornell's land grant activities last year.

Says Seeber:

It was a pleasure to have a genuine, independent advocate for higher education in New York. His leadership of SUNY has been extraordinary, and his role in establishing an effective Cornell / SUNY partnership has been invaluable in moving higher education forward in New York State. I truly enjoyed every opportunity I had to work with him. He was effective in any number of ways, and he will be missed.

I don't know what effect Ryan's resignation will have on state appropriations for Cornell. I suspect not much this year, as we are pretty far down the road, and he will be here through the budget season. Spitzer advanced a fairly good budget for SUNY, and higher education funding is not a big topic in Albany this year... Going forward, who knows? There is no doubt that Cornell benefited from having Ryan as Chancellor.

So when Spitzer asserted that "everything would change" if elected, he wasn't lying. Interesting times.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 07, 2007 (#)

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