Syracuse’s University Chancellor Is Unique

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Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud

Would you hold 30 events at your home to meet the staff? Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud (SIV-uh-rude) did. Convinced he should mostly listen in his first year (his tenure began January 2014), he invited 6,000 university employees to his home. About half, he said, took him up on the offer.

Syverud appeared before the Capital Region alumni chapter last week in Albany. He’s a warm, genuine person with a sense of humor. His eye-popping resume includes a time as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and he is a trustee of the $20 billion fund created by BP to pay claims arising from the Gulf oil spill.

“I’ve never been to a university that had so many niches,” Syverud said. He quizzed the audience on how many radio stations the university had (the answer is five). He pointed out 10,000 high school students took classes at S-U this past year, from all around the world. He underscored the school’s close ties with veterans. It has produced more generals and admirals than other university, except the service academies.

Syverud is candid about the high tuition (about $40,000/year) and the need to address it with savings. He discovered S-U had 11 different mobile phone contracts. It saved a quarter-million dollars by consolidating. Purchasing and travel practices needed updating. Organizational change must occur and technology must be better utilized to become more education savvy.

He didn’t skip over the scandal with the basketball program. Academic support for athletes is now under the Provost, not the athletic department.

Focused squarely on a “collective willingness” to meet the challenges posed, Syverud wants S-U to be a “student-powered’ university with wide scale collaboration.

I want us “to be the university that does change right,” he said.

Big task ahead. Big talent in charge.

The writer received a master’s degree in public communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Black Eye for the Orange: Coach Boeheim’s Self Inflicted Wound

Misguided loyalty has placed Syracuse University hoop coach Jim Boeheim’s job in jeopardy and given a black eye to the university.

Boeheim’s self inflicted wound occurred last week when he said alleged sex abuse victims were liars involving the case of his assistant, Bernie Fine. However, Fine was fired just a few days later and Boeheim said he supported the dismissal.

In most cases, standing by an old friend would be admired. But Boeheim had a higher duty, to leave no stone unturned to ensure no abuse of children ever took place under his watch. He now insists it is inappropriate to comment on the case “until the investigation is complete.” If only he had followed his own advice last week.

We don’t know all the facts yet. But we do know Syracuse officials feel they knew enough to fire Fine. In any case, the Penn State and Syracuse cases are stunning examples of poor crisis communication. Both failed to uncover the full stories on their crisis years before and both failed to brush aside personal loyalties and devotion to sports programs to reveal the full extent of the damage done. I wonder if more revelations from other universities lie ahead. Do you?

Note: The writer received his master’s degree in public communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in 1979.

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