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Podolefsky picked to head Buffalo State College

The leader of a university in Missouri has been picked as the next president of Buffalo State College.

Aaron M. Podolefsky, president of the University of Central Missouri, will be recommended for Buffalo State's top post by Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York.

He was one of three finalists for the job and would start July 1 if his appointment is approved Tuesday by the SUNY board of trustees.

Podolefsky, 63, would earn an annual salary of $225,000. He also would be provided a college-owned home on Lincoln Parkway and use of a campus-leased vehicle, SUNY officials said.

The announcement is planned for today. "Dr. Podolefsky will be a tremendous asset to Buffalo State College, Western New York and the SUNY system," Zimpher said.

Podolefsky was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Northern Iowa for seven years before being appointed in 2005 as the 14th president of Central Missouri, a school with 11,200 students and 450 faculty.

One of his charges was to boost the academic profile of Central Missouri, and Podolefsky feels he accomplished that.

"I think the main thing people liked was his very strong emphasis on academics," said Davie Davis, who heads the Faculty Senate at Central Missouri. "Our institution is much more academically prestigious than when he came here five years ago. We have a better retention rate, graduation rate, a better freshman class.

"Buffalo State will be very happy with him," Davis said.

His separation from Central Missouri, however, created a bit of a stir on campus.

Despite a faculty petition to retain Podolefsky and a glowing letter of recommendation from the state's higher-education commissioner, Central Missouri's board of governors decided, in a 4-3 vote, not to renew his contract, which expires in June. The board publicly offered no explanation but praised his contributions.

"Boards change, and new members want to go in a different direction," Podolefsky said during a phone interview Wednesday. "But I was very much affirmed by the response on campus from the faculty. That made me feel good about my five years."

Podolefsky has been mentioned as a presidential candidate at a number of colleges, including Central Washington State, the University of Central Arkansas and Youngstown State University, before he eventually landed the job at Buffalo State.

Podolefsky was one of three recommended to Zimpher by a Buffalo State committee appointed to search for a successor to longtime President Muriel A. Howard.

The committee liked Podolefsky's experience as a college president at a public university, said Howard Zemsky, who headed the search committee.

"He best reflected and embraced the values of Buffalo State College," Zemsky said.

"He also has other very attractive qualities," Zemsky said. "He's very personable, very engaging. I think he'll be an effective communicator."

Podolefsky comes aboard during interesting times for Buffalo State, a school of almost 12,000 students.

On one hand, more than $350 million in construction is planned for the campus over the next five years.

On the other hand, New York's public higher-education system has seen state operating aid diminish by hundreds of millions of dollars the past couple years amid tough economic times.

"Everyone is having difficulty," Podolefsky said. "I've been through it before while in Iowa, and we faced it in Missouri this year. I think the best thing to do is put your creative-thinking caps on, don't panic and take it one step at a time."

As a president, he considers himself a "consensus builder."

"I tend to be creative," Podolefsky said. "I tend to want to find new directions and hopefully make small changes that have large impacts."

Podolefsky earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from San Jose State University. Raised in New York City, he received master's degrees in liberal studies and anthropology from Stony Brook University, where he also earned a doctorate in anthropology.

He was a professor of anthropology at West Virginia University and Western Kentucky University.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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