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King named SUNY chancellor

Assemblyman Billy Jones hopes for focus on vocational programs that attract new students

Former Education Secretary John King speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. King has been appointed chancellor of the State University of New York, overseeing the state’s public colleges, SUNY announced Monday. King previously led New York’s K-12 schools as state education commissioner. (AP file photo — Susan Walsh)

ALBANY — John B. King Jr., a former U.S. Secretary of Education who ran unsuccessfully this year as a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, was appointed Monday as the $750,000 per year chancellor of a State University system struggling to stem a significant enrollment decline.

King, 47, reports to duty at SUNY Jan. 17.

King, who has also previously served as the New York state education commissioner, will also receive a monthly housing allowance of $12,500 for time spent working in SUNY’s New York City office, the university said. SUNY headquarters is located in downtown Albany, where King will have use of the chancellor’s residence “or at such other appropriate Albany residence as the Board of Trustees may designate,” the university said.

In addition, King will receive a monthly travel allowance of up to $4,000 for reimbursement for travel expenses between New York and Maryland.

SUNY is also giving him a monthly automobile allowance of $1,000 as well as a SUNY chauffeur when he is traveling on university business.

Academic experts said the compensation package provided to King is in line with the salaries and perquisites of other leaders of major public higher education institutions.

For instance, Karen Johnson, who resigned as SUNY chancellor in 2020, went on to run Ohio State University, a system with far fewer students than SUNY, and there had an annual salary of $927,000 when she retired earlier this year.

A major challenge facing King will be the 20% enrollment drop the 64-campus SUNY has experienced since 2011.

Sen. Mike Martucci, R-Orange County, said state leaders should be considering “right-sizing” the SUNY system to reflect the steep enrollment decline and doing more to create innovative programs that will spur enrollment, such as those opening pathways to employment following graduation.

“In the most recent budgets, we have not seen a direct relationship between the cost of running SUNY programs and the enrollment associated with them,” Martucci said.

With community college enrollment declines being particularly stark, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said he hopes to see more focus on expanding vocational programs that will attract new students.

“I meet regularly with representatives of the two community colleges in my district as well as ones from Plattsburgh State, and I would say their top concerns are enrollment, enrollment, enrollment,” Jones said.

Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, said the enrollment challenges awaiting King are also causing headaches at many other universities, forcing some to consider realigning admissions standards, while several private colleges have had to close their doors.

Local elected officials, Reeher said, would likely resist any call to consolidate campuses if a plan were presented that would shut schools or programs in their district. Were a consolidation plan to emerge in New York, he said, it would likely trigger the kind of battles that take place in Congress when representatives fight to keep funding flowing for military bases they contend are essential, he noted.

“It’s like a classic reverse case of NIMBY (not in my back yard) where instead of not wanting something you don’t want to be the one to lose something,” Reeher observed.

SUNY has seen its enrollment decline at the same time many New York counties have experienced population loss, noted Peter Warren, director of research for the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank “It seems the response from SUNY has been to hire more faculty and administrators as if that is somehow going to bring in more students,” Warren said.

King, Warren added, should take a close look at trimming the SUNY bureaucracy and faculty, with an eye towards doing more to convince families that a SUNY education can deliver an effective return on their investment in higher education.

In September, SUNY enrollment stood at 363,040 students, down markedly from the 2012 total of 461,816.

SUNY contracted with an outside consulting firm to assist trustees in a global search to fill the position vacated a year ago by James Malatras, who had been hired by the trustees in 2020 at the behest of then Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Malatras was a former Cuomo aide who had been president of Empire State College, a SUNY school.

In a statement, SUNY Chairwoman Merryl Tisch praised King: “As we work to continue to transform SUNY to meet the needs of the next generation of students and New York’s economy, we need a leader who understands how to balance striving for both excellence and equity. John King has a proven record of doing both.”

King had worked closely with Tisch when he was state education commissioner from 2011 to 2014, with Tisch then chair of the state Board of Regents, the body that appoints the commissioner.

The hiring of King as SUNY chancellor, given his ties to Tisch, “appears to be an incestuous appointment,” though King boasts the credentials and qualifications that make him a solid candidate, observed David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York.

“To hire the former U.S. Secretary of Education, who is already familiar with the system in New York, seems to me to be a good get,” Bloomfield observed.

King’s experiences include opening one of the first charter schools in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as Harvard and Yale universities.

Several education activists criticized the appointment, recalling their tangles with King while he was education commissioner.

“John King consistently ignored the concerns of parents and teachers regarding the policies he pursued,” said Lisa Rudley, executive director of New York State Allies for Public Education. She said King imposed an “arduous high stakes testing regime,” while basing teacher evaluations on student test scores, “none of which had any research behind it.”

Earlier this year, while running in the Democratic primary for governor in Maryland, King’s campaign was accused by a rival campaign of violating Maryland campaign rules by distributing a document through an anonymous email account designed to smear the rival, Wes Moore. The latter is now the governor-elect of the state.

King’s campaign denied the accusation from the Moore camp, but said the questions raised by the document should prompt a review of claims made by Moore, the Baltimore Banner news site reported. King ended up finishing sixth in the Democratic primary.

The chancellor search was already well under way in New York at the time of the Maryland election.

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