After five years, State University of New York Chancellor Robert King is stepping down from his post as of June 1. As a retirement gift, SUNY trustees named him interim president at SUNY's Potsdam State College, where he will be paid $206,000 a year. He also will be appointed a tenured "university professor," despite the lack of a doctoral degree usually required for that job.
The lifetime designation as university professor means King will be paid the $206,000 salary for as long as he chooses to be a professor at SUNY.
Not bad -- and also not deserved.
King's position as head of SUNY was widely considered to have been based more on politics than education. He never was the ideal choice to be chancellor, in the first place. He served in the Assembly with Pataki in the 1980s and was a former state budget director for the governor.
His predecessors, on the other hand, were experienced educators. Thomas Bartlett, who clashed repeatedly with Pataki-appointed trustees over how much freedom he had to manage the system, had led university systems in Oregon and Alabama and was president of Colgate University. Bartlett's successor, John W. Ryan (not to be confused with the newly named interim chancellor, Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John R. Ryan), came to SUNY after serving as president of Indiana University. Bruce Johnstone was president of Buffalo State College.
Which is not to say that King doesn't have skills. An attorney, he is a former Monroe County executive, and taught business law at St. John Fisher College and trial tactics at a Texas school for district attorneys.
But those were hardly overwhelming credentials to head a major university system. King was seen not so much as a chancellor of SUNY, but a chancellor for the governor. He further eroded his credibility when he asked for a paid, six-month sabbatical from his $250,000-a-year job as SUNY chancellor, a job that includes a $90,000 annual housing allowance and a chauffeur-driven car. He said he needed the break to give speeches, take college courses and "recharge my inner batteries."
His appointment as a $206,000-a-year interim president, who will continue to get that salary as a professor, is a political gift at taxpayer expense. It must be especially galling to professors who have worked years to gain expertise in their fields and who labor in academia for far less.
We wish King well, but he has supped at the university's table long enough.