The Stony Brook Press
Salary Shuﬄe at SUNY Central
Bowing to public and legislativescrutiny, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zim-pher announced she and her top deputy would no longer pay themselves hous-ing allowances totaling $150,000 peryear, at a hearing before the State Sen-ate Committee on Higher Education.Zimpher refused to withdraw raises re-cently awarded to three senior SUNYofficials totaling $30,000 each, but an-nounced she would rescind an offer fortwo of the officials to receive housing al-lowances, which would have amountedto $99,000 per year.“As the Rolling Stones say, you can’talways get what you want,” Zimphersaid at the hearing. “The decision comesfrom my belief that a big part of leader-ship is compromise.”Zimpher had been called on thecarpet by the Committee on Higher Ed-ucation to answer questions after
The Albany Times Union
reported she hadawarded $30,000 raises each to threetop executives who were already mak-ing more than $200,000 each per year,in spite of deep funding cuts from thestate that prompted Zimpher to fur-lough 221 SUNY central employees.
The Times Union
also reported onmulti-million dollar renovations cur-rently underway at SUNY headquartersfor “lavish” office suites for Zimpherand her team, citing unnamed SUNYinsiders. The paper also publicized theChancellor’s July decision to lay off aten-member security team at SUNY’sAlbany headquarters, despite an inde-pendent report indicating that thebuilding would be unsafe and vulnera-ble without security guards.Alarmed by the media reports, par-ticularly in light of SUNY’s desperatepleas for greater autonomy, Higher Ed-ucation Chairwoman Sen. Toby AnnStavisky (D-Queens) and Sen. Kevin S.Parker (D-Brooklyn) called Zimpher totestify on September 24, along with CarlHayden of the SUNY Board of Trusteesand Monica Rimai, Zimpher’s topdeputy and Chief Operating Officer forSUNY. Rimai came to SUNY in 2009along with Zimpher from the Univer-sity of Cincinnati, and Hayden hadchaired the search for the new chancel-lor, which resulted in Zimpher’s ap-pointment. Zimpher earns a salary of $490,000 per year and Rimai earns$325,000 per year; Hayden’s position onthe board is unpaid.To quell concerns, Zimpher andRimai announced at the hearing they would give up their yearly housing al-lowances of $90,000 and $60,000, re-spectively, and those savings would beused to fund the $90,000 in raisesawarded this month to three top SUNYofficials. The pay raises, recommendedby Zimpher and approved on Septem-ber 15 by the SUNY Board of Trustees,were awarded to John J. O’Connor, Jo-hanna Duncan-Poitier and DavidLavallee. The three officials, along withRimai, make up Zimpher’s ExecutiveCommittee.Duncan-Poitier began at SUNY lessthan one year ago in October 2009. Shewas formerly a senior deputy commis-sioner for the New York State EducationDepartment. Zimpher appointed her tothe post of Chancellor’s Deputy for theEducation Pipeline, tasked with over-seeing “cradle to college” initiatives by streamlining public education fromkindergarten through college. In addi-tion, she was recently appointed to bethe Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges, and Zimpher testified that ad-ditional responsibilities deserved a$30,000 raise. Duncan-Poitier nowmakes $250,000 per year and has accessto a university car.O’Connor serves as the secretary of SUNY and the president of the SUNYResearch Foundation. He was recently given the additional title of Senior ViceChancellor for Research and Innova-tion. Zimpher testified that O’Connorwould be tasked with overseeing SUNYpartnerships with private corporations,warranting a $30,000 raise, bringing hisnew salary to $275,000. O’Connor hadbeen offered a $39,000 housing al-lowance, which Zimpher rescinded atthe hearing.Lavallee was hired in 2009 asSUNY’s interim provost and was for-merly the provost of SUNY New Paltz.Zimpher testified that SUNY could notafford to continue searching for a per-manent provost, so Lavallee’s appoint-ment has been extended for two moreyears. Zimpher said that he holds theadditional titles of Senior AssociateProvost and fills “several other posi-tions” in the provost’s office. In addi-tion, Zimpher said at the hearing thatLavallee was recently given even moreresponsibilities.“I added to his agenda oversight of the SUNY Global Center and the ViceChancellor for Global International Af-fairs, and I felt that I was asking thisperson to do more than one job,” Zim-pher said. She felt that his numerous re-sponsibilities warranted a $30,000 raise,bringing Lavallee’s new salary to$315,000. Records indicate that Lavalleehad been receiving a $60,000 annualhousing allowance since 2009, whichZimpher said would be revoked.But SUNY already pays a ViceChancellor for Global Affairs $180,000a year, plus a $54,000 annual housing al-lowance. Records indicate that MitchLeventhal was appointed to the post inSeptember 2009 and came from theUniversity of Cincinnati, along withZimpher and her top deputy Rimai.SUNY officials did not respond torepeated requests for comment on theoverlap in positions.At the hearing, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden testi-fied that the salary increases were dis-cussed over two meetings of the SUNYBoard of Trustees: the first occurred lastMay in an undocumented executivesession; the second came this Septem-ber, when the salary increases were ap-proved.The hearing also included discus-sion of a $3 million renovation projectunderway at SUNY headquarters,which unnamed SUNY sources havecharacterized as a lavish officemakeover in
reports.“Although it pains me to dignify such sleaze by remarking on it, there isno Taj Mahal under construction atSUNY Plaza,” testified Hayden. He saidthe renovations are part of plan to bringobsolete infrastructure up to date, andthat Zimpher is moving to the fourthfloor of SUNY headquarters so “she andher senior leadership team can be to-gether.”A large portion of the hearing alsofocused on SUNY central’s July decisionto lay off its ten-member security force.Sen. Stavisky produced an independentreport of a security analysis performedin June by Linstar Security Systems,which said that getting rid of the secu-rity force would render the building un-safe and vulnerable. Rimai testified shewas unaware of the report and Stavisky promised to provide her a copy.“Since Chancellor Zimpher’s ar-rival, a pervasive culture of apathy andoutright hostility towards security ex-isted,” Robert Rogers, formerly the chief security officer at SUNY, testified at thehearing. He said he and his team weretrained emergency responders and now,in their absence, the staff they used toprotect could be vulnerable in the eventof a situation requiring first aid, or evento invasions by protesters.The committee demanded thatSUNY officials provide several docu-ments to back up their testimony, to bereviewed in coming weeks.News of SUNY central’s spendingdecisions drew harsh criticism from leg-islators around the state, including hereon Long Island.“If you want to know why peopleare so upset with their government andwhy they have lost faith in so many of their institutions, you don’t have to look much further than this recent episodehere at SUNY,” Sen. Kenneth LaValle(R-Port Jefferson) wrote in a statementthat was read aloud at the hearing in hisabsence. “At a time when middle classfamilies are doing more with less andother SUNY employees are being toldto stay home and give back a portion of their pay each month, these raises havesent a terrible message.”“These pay raises are uncon-scionable,” Assemblyman Fred Thiele(I-Sag Harbor) said in a statement.“SUNY, including Stony Brook, hasagain proven that they have become atop-heavy bureaucracy that is moreconcerned about preserving their own jobs than public higher education.”Stony Brook spokeswoman LaurenSheprow declined to comment on thehearing or on SUNY’s spending deci-sions.
By Colleen Harrington