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SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announces plan to retire next summer

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, a vocal advocate for the power of public higher education to bolster the state’s economic fortunes, will retire next summer after serving as the head of the largest state higher education system since 2009.

Zimpher, 69, announced her plans in a letter Tuesday morning to SUNY officials and campuses.

SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said the trustees would soon launch a national search to find her successor.

“During her seven-year tenure with the State University of New York, Nancy Zimpher has transformed SUNY and lifted our system up as the national model of higher education for the 21st century,” McCall said in a statement. “Throughout her leadership, Chancellor Zimpher has put our students at the forefront, championed efforts to create a more efficient system, enriched the intellectual edge of our teaching and research initiatives, and positioned SUNY as New York’s economic engine. On behalf of the Board as well as SUNY presidents, students, faculty, and staff across New York State, I want to thank Chancellor Zimpher for her tireless and exemplary leadership and for staying on as chancellor as we begin the difficult task of finding someone to follow in her footsteps.”

Hired from the University of Cincinnati, where she had spent six years as president, Zimpher became the first woman to serve as SUNY chancellor, overseeing a system of 34 state-operated campuses and 30 community colleges with nearly 460,000 students and 90,000 employees spread across New York.

Along with University at Buffalo officials and lawmakers from Western New York, she pushed for the state to enact NYSUNY 2020, legislation that allowed SUNY trustees to implement a predictable tuition policy. Tuition increased annually by $300 between 2011-12 and 2015-16. The policy, hailed by campus officials for providing them with more certainty about their revenues, was not renewed during this year’s budget negotiations, Tuition and fees at SUNY state-operated campuses went up by 25 percent over the five years.

Zimpher was paid $654,901 in 2015, according to See Through NY, a website that tracks state pay.

In her letter, Zimpher noted that the SUNY system came together and worked in a more unified way than ever before while the state emerged from a recession that led to huge funding cuts for higher education.

“In the face of economic crisis,” she wrote, “we have increased course offerings, added full-time professors, and implemented the nation’s most comprehensive seamless transfer system. These improvements and others have helped us decrease the time it takes students to complete their degrees and reduce student debt.”