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Shared presidents and more at the State University of New York

As part of an effort to try to reduce administrative costs and funnel the savings toward academics and student services, the system’s administration has been working to adopt a shared service model across its 64 campuses.
University Business, August 2013

The State University of New York (SUNY) may have the most talked about shared services program in the nation. As part of an effort to try to reduce administrative costs and funnel the savings toward academics and student services, the system’s administration has been working to adopt a shared service model across its 64 campuses. That model has even included shared presidents.

In early 2011, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher created the SUNY Strategic Campus Alliance Networks, which was set up to facilitate the sharing of administrative functions between two or more campuses in each region of the state, with a goal of shifting $100 million from administrative costs to spending on students.

A mid-2012 report, for example, noted that SUNY Delhi and SUNY Cobleskill were already sharing 15 different services, including print shop, consulting services, contracts for hazardous waste disposal, employee recruitment administration, and content management. Between August 2011 and December 2012, Zimpher’s office reported a net savings of over $20 million as a result of systemwide shared services.

SUNY officials then attempted to take the concept a step further by creating “shared presidents” at some of its campuses. In 2011, Zimpher recommended that the SUNY Institute of Technology president also serve as president of Morrisville State College (which had an interim president), and that the president of SUNY Delhi also serve as president of SUNY Cobleskill (whose president was getting ready to retire).

“Shared leadership between these campuses will best serve current and future students by enabling campuses to enroll more students, hire more full-time faculty, and increase course offerings,” Zimpher said in a press release.

While shared services in general has met with a great deal of success in the SUNY system, the idea of sharing presidents has run up against some opposition. In early 2012, two state senators introduced a bill in the New York State Senate that would require one president at each SUNY campus.

Then, in mid-2012, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an accrediting body, asked officials at Delhi, Cobleskill, and Morrisville to provide “evidence that there is a chief executive officer whose primary responsibility is to lead the institution toward the achievement of its goals.” It also asked the schools to “provide an assessment of the effectiveness of institutional leadership and governance in relation to recently implemented shared service agreements.”

Subsequently, in August 2012, five state senators (including the two who had introduced the SUNY bill earlier in the year) sent a letter of concern to Zimpher regarding the Middle States inquiry. The letter noted, in part, that, Middle States raising “troubling concerns” about the shared presidencies concept affecting the quality of higher education should get everyone’s attention.

Zimpher’s office responded by noting that shared presidencies are just one component of a systemwide strategy to identify opportunities to shift limited resources from administrative overhead to student services. The letter added, “Campuses where the potential exists for shared presidencies are maintaining their unique identities and each has an officer-in-charge. There is no threat to accreditation, rather a recommendation from Middle States that the campuses have clear leadership, which they do.”

Zimpher has since called for SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam to share a president.

On July 1, SUNY Canton’s acting president, Joseph C. Hoffman, and SUNY Potsdam’s interim president, Dennis L. Hefner, signed a memorandum of understanding (available at outlining how the two campuses would continue to share services over the next two years.

The areas to be shared involve back-office operations, the development of academic programs, and purchasing. What they won’t be sharing is a single president.

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