SUNY Potsdam president to step down in July, says it's time for new leadership
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - 11:47 am

POTSDAM – SUNY Potsdam President John Schwaller has announced he is stepping down at end of July

“I believe the time is right for me to turn the campus over to new leadership,” Schwallwer said in his announcement today.

Pointing to many achievements during his six and a half years in the post, Schwaller said the college “must continue to capitalize on this success. In order to do that, for the college to advance in a changing academic environment, I believe the time is right for me to turn the campus over to new leadership.

“Through strategic planning, self-reflection, shared governance, and investment in the student experience, our campus continues to grow, even as it has weathered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This is, in a word, remarkable. The contributions of SUNY Potsdam to the North Country over the last six years have been profound. We can all be very, very proud of what we have achieved together.”

Schwaller pointed to “a glowing report” from an accreditation team from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, “which commended our campus for its integrity, passion, transparency, faculty achievements, commitment to community, and the student experience.”

“We are the first SUNY campus to have a test-optional admissions policy” – not requiring applicants to submit scores from the two major college entrance tests before admissions decisions are made – “which has helped us to increase our first year classes from 750 to 900 students, with no decline in selectivity, at a time when other SUNY schools have struggled.”

Schwaller said he was in support of a SUNY-wide effort to share services and resources among campuses, an effort that began in the North Country due to the proximity of the Potsdam and Canton campuses – an effort that has not been without bumps in the road.

“Clearly, we must capitalize on the shared services initiative with SUNY Canton, to find administrative efficiencies and strengthen our investment in the SUNY Potsdam student experience, while remaining faithful to our character and tradition. We have been advocates for, and willing partners in, shared services with our sister campus in Canton. Indeed, our work with SUNY Canton has been called a model for the entire SUNY System,” Schwaller said.

While no schedule or methodology has been announced, the college presumably begins its search for a new president immediately.

Dr. Schwaller’s entire statement follows:

As I look back over the past six and a half years, I am thrilled at how much this campus has accomplished. We have seen how the handcrafted education has transformed the lives of generations of SUNY Potsdam students, and how it continues to be a driving force for all of us engaged in higher education. Through strategic planning, self-reflection, shared governance, and investment in the student experience, our campus continues to grow, even as it has weathered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This is, in a word, remarkable. The contributions of SUNY Potsdam to the North Country over the last six years have been profound. We can all be very, very proud of what we have achieved together.

SUNY Potsdam, the campus that I love so dearly, must continue to capitalize on this success. In order to do that, for the College to advance in a changing academic environment, I believe the time is right for me to turn the campus over to new leadership. After much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it is in the best interest of SUNY Potsdam for me to resign my position as President, effective July 31, 2013.

Since 2006, we have worked together to shape the vision of SUNY Potsdam’s future, completing the Bicentennial Plan, the Facilities Master Plan, the Academic Master Plan, and in developing our Biennial Goals. We received a glowing report from the Middle States visiting team, which commended our campus for its integrity, passion, transparency, faculty achievements, commitment to community, and the student experience. With the strength of our shared resolve, I truly believe SUNY Potsdam is positioned to fulfill its tradition of excellence.

We are the first SUNY campus to have a test-optional admissions policy, which has helped us to increase our first year classes from 750 to 900 students, with no decline in selectivity, at a time when other SUNY schools have struggled. We have enhanced many important learning experiences for our students, from the First Year Experience, to capstone research and performance opportunities, all of which were created to impart the best educational environment for the leaders of tomorrow. As part of this, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of students studying abroad. SUNY Potsdam has also forged important international exchange agreements with partner universities in Hidalgo, Mexico and Potsdam, Germany. Our campus has also been transformed through renovations and improvements, the highlight of which is the construction of the new Performing Arts Building. Thanks to generous donors, we have seen increased charitable giving throughout this period as well. As a result, we have restored traditions, such as bringing world-class conductors to The Crane School of Music and sending the Crane Chorus and Crane Symphony Orchestra to renowned venues like Lincoln Center, and created new ones, such as the campuswide Lougheed Festival of the Arts. We have endowed scores of new scholarships, built Becky’s Place, and created new research opportunities, all thanks to generous gifts.

Yet the future of SUNY Potsdam holds several challenges, challenges I believe it is ready to face. The financial status of SUNY Potsdam is stable, yet fragile. As a result of the new budget reality caused by the downturn in the state and national economy, the campus will be even more dependent on enrollment, and thus must focus and redouble efforts on recruitment and retention of undergraduate and graduate students. Sensitive to our situation, however, SUNY has assured us that they will assist with three-year transition support through this period of growth, as we diversify our graduate programs.

Clearly, we must capitalize on the shared services initiative with SUNY Canton, to find administrative efficiencies and strengthen our investment in the SUNY Potsdam student experience, while remaining faithful to our character and tradition. We have been advocates for, and willing partners in, shared services with our sister campus in Canton. Indeed, our work with SUNY Canton has been called a model for the entire SUNY System. Shared services offers a unique opportunity to both reduce overhead costs through a single administration shared by Potsdam and Canton, as well as building on the successful academic programs of both campuses. I am confident that the administrators, faculty, and staff of the two campuses can rise to the challenge. Change is never easy and there will always be those who believe the status quo should be defended. But our efforts have already proven successful and are worthy of our continued collective focus. We must continue to build on our momentum.

I am convinced that now is the right time for change, both for me personally and for SUNY Potsdam. One of my favorite aphorisms is that “there is no limit to what we can accomplish, if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” We need to change the conversation from one focused on individuals and personalities, to one focused on opportunities; a change from arguments about what campuses have done or have been in the past, to what the future will look like.

This has been a very difficult decision, because serving as President of SUNY Potsdam and living in this community have been among the great joys of my life. Anne and I believe that the students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, emeriti, and friends of the campus, are simply some of the finest people we have ever had the honor to know. Living and working with you all has given us great joy. Potsdam is a wonderful and unique place, and will always occupy a special spot in our hearts. For my part, I only pray that I have contributed in some small way to making this College the emblem of the handcrafted education. I truly believe that SUNY Potsdam is prepared for its third century and will continue to be a leader in serving the region, the state, and beyond, navigating the future of higher education.