SUNY Expected to Pick University of Cincinnati Leader as Chancellor
By LISA W. FODERARO
The trustees of the State University of New York are poised to select Nancy L. Zimpher, the president of the University of Cincinnati, to be the next chancellor of SUNY, the nation’s largest public university system, according to people involved in the process. They said an announcement could come within days.
The choice of Dr. Zimpher, who is widely credited with strengthening the University of Cincinnati financially and academically, was all but assured when a search committee of the SUNY board endorsed her last week. Dr. Zimpher, 62, has spent her entire academic and professional life in the Midwest, and would fill a leadership void that has stretched for nearly two years. And the choice would end a search that was stalled first by the turmoil surrounding Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s abrupt resignation and then by the withdrawal of some candidates.
David M. Henahan, a spokesman for SUNY, declined to comment on the appointment. Dr. Zimpher also declined to discuss the matter, but issued a statement in response to questions.
“The State University of New York system has approached me to discuss their search for a chancellor,” it said. “It is not uncommon for me to receive such inquiries. I see it as recognition of the progress made by the University of Cincinnati on academic quality and accountability, urban issues, our strong research program and our collaborative endeavors throughout the region and state.”
If approved by the full board, as expected, Dr. Zimpher would be the first woman to take over SUNY, which has 64 campuses and almost half a million students. She would assume leadership at a time of growing financial uncertainty. The system has an operating budget of $10 billion a year, and is facing severe budget cuts in the next year.
The previous chancellor, John R. Ryan, a retired Navy vice admiral, left after less than two years to run a nonprofit organization in North Carolina.
Dr. Zimpher in 2003 took the helm of the University of Cincinnati, which has about 37,000 students and a $1 billion annual budget, after serving as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for five years. Her predecessor at Cincinnati had overseen a multiyear building boom that led to many campus improvements, but also left the university in poor fiscal health.
“President Zimpher has brought in a great team and is doing her best to improve the financial situation of the university,” said Russel Durst, head of the English department at McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, one of 16 colleges, schools and divisions at the University of Cincinnati. “She is digging us out of a mountain of debt.”
Another professor, Steve Howe, who heads the psychology department at McMicken, added, “We overspent and Nancy deserves a good deal of credit for having brought in a fiscal team that operated very transparently about the university finances and the deficit spending.”
Like Dr. Durst, Professor Howe, who is also president of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, praised Dr. Zimpher for her academic strategy, laid out in “UC/21: Defining the New Urban Research University.” That plan called for strengthening research, fostering interaction between faculty and students, taking greater advantage of technology and bolstering study-abroad programs, among other things.
“It’s basically the right vision for the university and stresses the importance of research and puts students at the center,” Professor Howe said. “We’re doing a better job of recruiting undergraduate students than we had, and the College of Arts and Sciences has a more prominent role in the culture of the university.”
Dr. Zimpher, who is known for her vibrant outfits in the school’s colors of red and black, also demonstrated a willingness to stand up to a popular basketball coach who had led a winning team for 16 years.
The coach, Bob Huggins, brought embarrassment to the university after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge in 2004. His role at Cincinnati had attracted negative publicity even before then, with his players getting arrested in connection with everything from domestic violence to punching a police horse.
Dr. Zimpher forced him out in 2005, after declaring, “Character counts” before a room full of reporters and television cameras.
Dr. Durst called the move a “formative event in her presidency.”
He recalled about the coach: “The last straw was when one of his players was walking on campus in the middle of the day and a loaded gun fell out of his pocket and went off.” The coach, he said, “challenged her authority.”
But while many faculty members applauded her willingness to take on the athletic juggernaut — Mr. Huggins led Cincinnati to 14 straight N.C.A.A. tournament appearances — others in the community resented her move long afterward.
“She goes to sports events and people boo her,” Dr. Durst said.