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Grad student from Amherst to continue on SUNY board

The student trustee on the State University of New York Board of Trustees doesn't typically serve more than a year. But Amherst resident Marc J. Cohen isn't going anywhere when his current term ends June 1.

Cohen, a University at Albany graduate student, recently won re-election as president of the SUNY Student Assembly.

The Student Assembly president is a full voting member of the SUNY board, by virtue of the position.

So Cohen will stay on the policymaking board of the system of 64 state-operated and community colleges in New York for a second year. He is the first Student Assembly president to be re-elected since 2004, when then-SUNY Oneonta student Stephanie Gross won a second term.

It is crucial for the Student Assembly to maintain continuity in leadership as it advocates for more than 465,000 SUNY students, Cohen said.

He said he is excited and humbled to have been elected to carry on his work.

Promising student initiatives have fallen by the wayside in the past due to turnover, Cohen said.

"A sense of continuity in leadership lends you credibility when it comes to making big decisions, and there are plenty of big decisions still to be made," he said.

The trustees, for example, are currently searching for a successor to Nancy L. Zimpher, who will step down this summer after eight years as SUNY chancellor.

As part of the SUNY board, Cohen rubs elbows with several high-profile New York State residents, including former state comptroller and gubernatorial candidate H. Carl McCall and former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. He is a member of the board's executive committee. He also is co-chairman of the student life committee with Eunice A. Lewin of Buffalo.

Cohen has been outspoken on the SUNY board in advocating for more state financing of public higher education.

He also helped push for SUNY to end its practice of asking student applicants if they were convicted of a felony crime. The trustees voted last September to eliminate the criminal history check box on application forms for admission to SUNY campuses, including the University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and Erie Community College. The new SUNY policy takes effect in July, affecting the 2018 student recruitment cycle. Current SUNY policy requires student applicants to declare prior felony convictions. Critics said the box discouraged thousands of people with criminal backgrounds from pursuing a higher education.

Cohen, a 2012 graduate of Williamsville East High School, earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Albany in 2016. He is currently working toward a master's degree in public administration. Cohen has held various posts within student government throughout his college years.

Student assembly delegates from more than 50 campuses gathered in Rochester earlier this month to elect an executive board. Cohen ran unopposed for the president's seat. He first won the seat in 2016 by outpolling a single opponent.

"By re-electing Cohen, the Assembly has shown its support for the past year's progress in no uncertain terms and looks forward to seeing that progress continue in the coming year," said Arthur W. Ramsey, an Empire State College student and communications director for the Student Assembly.

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