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Interim Potsdam president touts shared services

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POTSDAM — The veteran academic tapped to lead SUNY Potsdam during its search for a new president is an economist by training with a self-professed eye for “the bottom line.”

Dennis L. Hefner said Thursday that he embraces economies of scale and more shared services among SUNY institutions. But he also will look to continue SUNY Potsdam’s “tradition of excellence” and work to increase enrollment during his coming tenure as interim president of what he called “a public ivy university.”

“One of my goals is to lessen the concerns about shared services,” Mr. Hefner, 67, said during a meeting with reporters.

Both SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton are seeking new presidents, which has resulted in heightened sensitivities about how increased integration between the two campuses could affect students and employees.

“I believe in shared services. Where you can reduce costs or improve the quality of services by having two campuses come together or share what they’re doing, that is the right thing to do,” Mr. Hefner said.

But Mr. Hefner also said he believes that the north country needs the distinctive academic offerings provided in Canton and Potsdam, each of which works to bring students, families and money to the region.

Mr. Hefner was chosen by the SUNY Board of Trustees last month to serve as interim replacement for John F. Schwaller, who will resign in July after more than seven years in the post. His appointment, at a $225,000 salary, takes effect June 1.

At SUNY Canton, meanwhile, former Provost Jeremy D. Brown has been named acting president to replace Carli S. Schiffner, who has served as SUNY Canton’s interim president since longtime President Joseph L. Kennedy stepped down last year. He will receive a $185,000 salary and a $4,000 monthly housing allowance, also starting June 1.

Prior to his own retirement this year, Mr. Hefner spent 16 years as president of SUNY Fredonia in Western New York, a school SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher described as one of Potsdam’s “peer campuses within our system.”

He said he took a full week to consider the offer before accepting.

“I said, you know, I think I could probably help.”

Mr. Hefner said he hopes to bring lessons learned during his tenure in Fredonia to his duties in the north country.

Among those lessons are the benefits to be derived from shared services.

Mr. Hefner said 15 different shared-service agreements were implemented during his presidency at SUNY Fredonia, most involving six or more colleges and all still in operation. Among the most recent, he said, was a pact to share print services among several Western New York colleges, with much of the work being done at Alfred State.

Mr. Hefner’s tenure at SUNY Fredonia also was marked by enrollment growth of 25 percent. That wasn’t merely a factor of natural growth, he said, “but it wasn’t just me. It was a campus-wide effort.”

He credits enhanced academic offerings that focused on the institution’s strengths, such as a media arts program, as well as a “four-year guarantee” under which students have access to all courses needed to graduate within four years.

Mr. Hefner also hopes to see increased enrollment during his time at SUNY Potsdam’s helm, though he acknowledges that his time there will be limited —“at least a year, maybe a little longer.

Under SUNY rules, interim presidents cannot be considered for the permanent presidency at the campus where they are serving, but an acting president can continue as a permanent hire.

“I won’t be here for three or four years,” he said.

Currently living in North Carolina, Mr. Hefner has three grandchildren in Texas and a passion for traveling the world with his wife, Jan. He has not decided where he will live during the coming appointment, but said it won’t be the SUNY Potsdam president’s house, which he said will be home to his permanent replacement.

The colleges await permission from Ms. Zimpher to begin the search for their permanent presidents, a process that SUNY Potsdam officials said could take from six to eight months.

Mr. Hefner is scheduled to meet with the SUNY Potsdam College Council during a special meeting at 10 a.m. today in the Raymond Hall seventh floor boardroom. The meeting is open to the public.

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