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Shaping SUNY Into A Whole Greater Than Its Parts

April 19, 2010

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Nancy L. Zimpher admits to being infatuated with self-help books, especially those about corporate leadership. As chancellor of the State University of New York, she may need all the help she can get as she tests her own management theories in an effort to bolster the image and quality of the nation's largest system of public higher education.

During the past decade, SUNY has been plagued by frequent turnover in leadership and hampered by limited cooperation among the system's 64 campuses, which are mired in competition for sparse resources and hamstrung by state regulations.

Like several previous chancellors, Ms. Zimpher has an ambitious goal: to unite the system's two year colleges, regional universities, and major research institutions around a common set of goals. A strategic plan she unveiled this month seeks to redefine the role of the system, coordinate the focus of its campuses, and raise its profile both in New York and across the nation.

While the system's larger universities have little incentive to go along with the plans, several campus leaders say the depth of the state's economic and political crises may force them to cooperate to a new degree. And higher-education leaders who know the chancellor say her tenacity and ability to build consensus may help her succeed where others have failed.

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