An Admiral for SUNY

State U. of New York's board picks popular acting chancellor for the permanent position.
December 20, 2005

A period of uncertainty over the leadership of the 64-campus State University of New York came to an end Monday with the announcement that John R. Ryan, the acting chancellor, would keep the job permanently.

Ryan spent the first part of his career in the Navy, rising to the rank of vice admiral and serving as a popular superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from 1998-2002. From Annapolis, he continued a career as a college administrator, serving as president of SUNY's Maritime College, acting president of SUNY at Albany, and acting chancellor of the system. His reputation is non-ideological and as someone who has pushed with vigor for more money for SUNY campuses and students.

The previous chancellor, Robert L. King, formally announced his resignation in April, after several months in which rumors circulated that Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, had lost confidence in him. When King became chancellor in 1999, he didn't have experience leading colleges, but did have experience in Republican politics and was known as a close ally of Pataki, who angered SUNY faculty members and students with some frugal budgets and with some appointees to SUNY's board who repeatedly questioned campus practices.

As acting chancellor, Ryan has deftly managed the political scene in Albany. As a military man who regularly cites ways SUNY is saving money or managing itself efficiently, he gets points from Republicans. But as someone who has proposed increased spending for SUNY, talked about the need for more faculty positions, and worked closely with student and faculty leaders, he has won praise from those who viewed King skeptically.

"We've been really impressed with his gung-ho nature and his strong advocacy for colleges," said Miriam Kramer, who directs the higher education campaign for the New York State Public Interest Research Group. "He's been very supportive of students."

William E. Scheuerman, president of United University Professions, the American Federation of Teachers unit that represents SUNY faculty members, said of Ryan: "It's clear he's not an ideologue. He's very pragmatic and that makes us very hopeful."

Many SUNY faculty members have been furious in recent months as some SUNY trustees have requested discussion of the "Academic Bill of Rights" -- which supporters say protects students and critics say is designed to discourage faculty members from discussing anything remotely controversial. Ryan, Scheuerman said, "has shown that he's not too keen on the idea" and that he is "very supportive of academic freedom."

Based on discussions with Ryan, Scheuerman also said that the new chancellor "realizes that you can't run the university on the backs of part timers" and that SUNY "needs some stability."

He added that faculty leaders at the campuses where Ryan was president all said "great things" about him.


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