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Posted: October 20, 2007
UAlbany turnover causes concern but doesn't rattle school's top faculty
(Nanowerk News) The roadmap to the University at Albany's future has been blurred by turnover at the top.
Except for 18 months of stability during President Kermit Hall's brief reign, one of the few constants at the school has been change.
When George Philip becomes the officer in charge on Oct. 26, he will be the fifth leader at the public university in three years.
His term also is expected to be shortlived.
"The fact that there are no new initiatives, I think, is in the back of everybody's mind," said Reed Hoyt, chairman of the University Senate and member of the presidential search team.
"A president has the responsibility of creating a sense of direction. We don't have that now," Hoyt said.
Philip, the executive director and chief investment officer with the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, is chairman of the Presidential Search Committee. But he is not a candidate for the job.
UAlbany's void at the top has generated some concerns, Hoyt said.
"Is there a fear factor? Of course, there is," Hoyt said. "Rank-and-file faculty would just like to get on with [selecting a permanent president]. At the moment, it's not affecting our daily lives that much."
Some faculty are encouraged that initiatives envisioned during Hall's tenure are continuing.
The school's effort to build its Chinese studies program is moving forward, said professor James Hargett.
Hargett was a senior policy adviser on China relations under Hall. The two visited China six times in 18 months.
Hargett's trips as a policy adviser ended when Hall died, but UAlbany did launch its fall Gateways to China semester last month. That program will expose students to Chinese theater, film, food, politics, history, literature and art.
One of the goals of the program is to encourage more UAlbany students to learn the Chinese language and study abroad, Hargett said.
Enrollment in the Asian Studies Department fell this semester--for the second year in a row. Total enrollment is 97, down from 103 last year and 114 two years ago.
The Honor's College, which began during Hall's tenure, has grown. The program was created to give exceptional students an opportunity to work in the field, conduct research and work with elite professors.
A total of 177 freshmen enrolled in the honor's school this fall, up from the 120 who signed on during the first year in 2006.
UAlbany applications also are on the rise.
A total of 20,249 students applied for this year, up from a little more than 18,000 last year.
Likewise, overall school enrollment figures grew over the past year to 17,634 from 17,399.
One problem with a vacancy at the top is that it generates fear that priorities could change once a new president is selected.
That's something that Albany Molecular Research Inc. founder and chief executive Thomas D'Ambra, experienced three years ago.
D'Ambra and his wife, Candace D'Ambra, donated $1 million when they launched a $20 million campaign to support programs and recruit faculty for UAlbany's new Life Sciences Research Building while Karen Hitchcock was president.
"When she left, we were in limbo for a while," D'Ambra recalled.
Hitchcock abruptly resigned in January 2004 to head Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
"I think it made it more difficult to raise money because priorities change under new leadership," D'Ambra said.
Potential donors are less likely to give unless they are sure a new president will support an initiative as aggressively as the predecessor.
D'Ambra said he never understood how UAlbany's efforts in China would benefit the Capital Region as much as it would China.
But he's convinced that UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering will grow, no matter how long it takes to find a university president.
That's because of the momentum generated by the school's chief administrative officer, Alain Kaloyeros, D'Ambra said.
Kaloyeros built the nanoscale research program into a $4.2 billion effort that lured computer-chip tool makers Tokyo Electron Ltd., ASML and IBM to the campus.
The effort began with $100,000 in start-up money in the basement of UAlbany's Physics Department.
"He's my hero," D'Ambra said.
Kaloyeros also is confident about the nano school's future.
"There is always concern in times of transition," he said. "Do I think there is going to be a vacuum? Absolutely not."
There also has been transition in the chancellor post at the State University of New York.
But Kaloyeros is upbeat about that too.
That post changed leaders in the spring when Chancellor John Ryan resigned in May to become president and chief executive of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C.
The SUNY Board of Trustees responded by appointing John Clark, who has served as interim president at SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Brockport.
"I have been impressed how the interim chancellor was delighted to see how the whole campus was speaking with one voice," Kaloyeros said.
The nanoscale chief also is a member of the UAlbany Presidential Search Committee.
And he has no desire to rush through the process.
"The campus is in good hands," Kaloyeros said.
Philip declined to comment about the search. But a college spokesman said no time frame has been set to select a new president. Candidates are slated to visit the campus this fall.