Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, September 05, 2010

I've been trying to process the abrupt resignation of UB president John Simpson since it was announced last week. He had a clear vision for the direction he wanted the institution to move in, and he was clear in articulating it. When the legislature passed on implanting the changes his team proposed Simpson jumped ship, and that troubles me. UB is the single most important institution in the region of any kind-- educational, economic, political, cultural, you name it-- and I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Simpson quit on it, although this is clearly not a good thing. It's interesting that the appointment of Scott D. Nostaja as interim president of UB is creating such a stir. As it happens I've met Mr. Nostaja, who impressed me as an intelligent and capable guy. I wonder how much of the fuss is being raised by people with a dog in the fight, and I'll bet you a doughnut that the people quoted in the Buffalo News article wouldn't want the job, so there must be something else going on. They say that academic politics is vicious because the stakes are so low, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here.

Simpson's resignation is a very big deal for New York higher education state-wide, and for the economy of the region. The fact that Nostaja is stepping in illustrates this-- he is obviously going to be more involved with keeping UB's long-term strategic plan on track than with the internal operations of the university as an academic institution. The chair of the UB Faculty Senate complains that "Having not undergone the rigors of graduate school, research and publication as a scholar, nor teaching at the university level, he lacks the authority to judge the achievements of junior faculty and make tenure decisions. He lacks the authority to judge any resolutions on academic matters emanating from the Faculty Senate --- grading policies, graduation requirements, the establishment or dissolution of an academic unit, to name only a few." I'm not so sure that this is true, and I am far from sure that these are things that are going to be the most important part of the job while the search for a new president goes on.

I wonder if the real objection to this appointment might be with the long-term plan that Simpson (and Nostaja, among others) were putting in place. There are, I suppose, legitimate objections to the plan Simpson (and now Nostaja) advocate-- greater autonomy, including the ability to set tuition, is not necessarily consistent with the mission of a public university. On the other hand, greater autonomy isn't per se inconsistent with that mission, and the failure of the State of New York to adequately fund its university system has to be addressed somehow. UB is either on the brink of lapsing into mediocrity or poised to become something greater than it has ever been, and the time to debate Simpson's vision for the institution passed several years ago. It can't be said that the process wasn't transparent-- I was getting the emails.

Simpson should have stuck it out. I don't doubt that. He's made a bigger problem out of this situation than it already was, and I am not particularly confident in the ability of the people left to deal with it to do so--Scott Nostaja excepted, I suppose. At least he has a clear vision of what he wants to do, and a clear set of priorities. Jeromy Jacobs has merely aggravated things, and is now going to have to deal with governance issues. I thought he was more adept than this. The faculty senate will do what faculty senates do, which is mostly hand-wring and blither. The local delegates to the legislature have already demonstrated that they are incompetent. It may be that this mess will result in some electoral change, but even if that happens SUNY restructuring is not likely to be a priority. I'd like to think that Andy Cuomo will take the matter in hand, but I don't really see that happening.

| Comments:
Not at all surprised John Simpson is leaving UB to retire and going back to California. Don't be suprised if he takes a new position in southern California as well. While John Simpson was President, it was always about the big show, and whatever he could do to gain attention. There were more discrimination lawsuits filed while he served as President too. President Simpson was not someone that was approachable by faculty, staff or students and clearly lived in the "ivory" tower. He wasn't like President Greiner who made it a point to know people, take time to listen and do more. President Greiner will be sadly missed by many including myself. I won't miss John Simpson at all.

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