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SUNY Brockport prepares to find new chief

Rochester Business Journal
August 22, 2014

SUNY College at Brockport is preparing for its first presidential search in a decade.

John Halstead, president of SUNY Brockport since 2005, said this week that he intends to retire in August 2015.

As he prepares to step down, Halstead said, he hopes to ensure a strong continuity between the accomplishments of the past decade and the work of the next president. The college’s executive team—including Mary Ellen Zuckerman, the new provost and vice president for academic affairs—will help to ensure that transition, he added.

The announcement came as a bit of a surprise. Scott Turner, chairman of SUNY Brockport’s College Council, said he had had conversations with Halstead in the past about the idea of retirement but had not heard anything definite.

“John and I have previously discussed how long he could go for, but it was never definite,” he said. “That being said, this happens at SUNY campuses all around the state, and SUNY has a process and a guideline for how we will conduct a presidential search.”

Turner said he participated in the search in 2004 and 2005 that ultimately selected Halstead, and he plans to talk with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher about how SUNY Brockport will proceed in the latest search.

The last search involved a committee of 16 members, a mix of faculty, staff, students and board members, Turner noted. He expects the new search committee to have the same structure, with members not chosen until after the academic year begins.

Turner added that SUNY Brockport will be hiring a search consultant but said the board will not set any schedule for the search until after meeting with Zimpher and getting SUNY’s guidance.

The timing of the search will present a bit of an opportunity for the search committee, Turner said. In 2011 Halstead and the SUNY Brockport board completed a five-year strategic plan to advance the college from a regional institution to one recognized nationally by its peers for best practices.

The plan also aimed to increase diversity in the student body and expand the college’s marketing niche beyond Western New York to include the New York City metropolitan area.

With the strategic plan’s time frame coming to a close, presidential candidates will have a chance to share their vision for SUNY Brockport’s future in more certain terms, Turner added.

“I think the strategic plan will be a factor in terms of what we discuss with potential candidates, what they see as the next version of a plan for the college,” he said.

Halstead said he takes pride in the college’s accomplishments over the last decade, especially in increasing its stature.

“I’ve been proud to help extend the visibility of the college,” he said, adding that the downtown Rochester presence has been a great help in moving toward that goal.

Turner noted that Halstead leaves some “giant shoes to fill.” Halstead has spent 35 years in executive roles in higher education, including serving seven years as president of Mansfield University before coming to SUNY Brockport. He also held vice presidential positions at the University of Maine and Gonzaga University.

Turner credited Halstead with strengthening the college’s senior leadership team as well as taking strides to improve academics, noting that Halstead put a strong emphasis on student engagement both in and out of the classroom.

Halstead also led the launch of the college’s first-ever comprehensive capital campaign, which is close to its goal of raising $25 million.

“The successful completion of our comprehensive campaign will ensure that future generations of students thrive and benefit from the highest quality education both in and out of the classroom,” Halstead said while announcing his retirement.

He plans to spend the next 12 months meeting with alumni and friends nationwide, ensuring a strong finish to the campaign, Halstead said.

Halstead was also seen as instrumental in a number of capital projects, including a townhome residential complex completed in 2007, a special events recreation center opened in 2012 and a liberal arts building that will open in the fall.

Turner noted that Halstead has also played a large role in the Rochester community, even outside SUNY Brockport. He served on the board of Unity Health System and was president of Rochester Area Colleges Inc., a consortium of 19 private and public colleges and universities.

Halstead also brought a strong commitment to the college’s partnership with the city of Rochester, Turner said.

“He made a commitment to downtown Rochester in the form of acquiring the (former) chamber of commerce building and having that as both a facility for events and teaching,” he said. “That was one thing the search committee wanted when we last looked for a president, to find someone who would really be involved and engaged in the community, and John has done a fine job at that.”

8/22/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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