Doesn’t it remind you of what happened to Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich?
No sooner had she arrived in 2008 on Oyaron Hill, when the Great Recession hit.
Within a few months, the fledgling president, with no chance to build a reputation or support among staff and faculty, had to begin laying people off.
The faculty balked. Criticism abounded.
Drugovich did what she had to do. Things settled down. The economy eventually rebounded, and Drugovich built the sterling reputation she has today.
Fast forward to 2020 and, across the valley, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig.
It’s even moreso. Drugovich had a short honeymoon. Craig parachuted into the middle of a 700-plus COVID-19 infestation, one of the worst per-capita among U.S. campuses. His predecessor had departed precipitously. The New York Times’ front page was trumpeting our woes worldwide.
Craig immediately formed a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team. In a month – almost to the day – the team reported out a 22-page, single-space,
detailed-packed plan to take on the menace.
So far, some of the faculty balked. But otherwise, criticism hasn’t abounded.
Just the opposite. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig likes the plan’s focus on the safety of his constituents. Student Association President Gabby Cesaria likes the focus on a Feb. 1 reopening; she surveyed students, and 50 percent want to return to classes.
In recent decades, SUNY Oneonta has been on the make.
President Alan Donovan, now retired and an Oneonta community leader, began the drive to push up the quality of students and scholarship.
During his successor Nancy Kleniewski’s tenure, Oneonta was often mentioned, along with Geneseo and New Paltz, as one of “SUNY’s Ivies,” if you will.
During that period, the SUNY System invested heavily in the hilltop. Tom Rathbun, the level-headed assistant vice president/facilities, was spending $30-40 million a year upgrading the campus, and it looks great. (His successor, Lachlan Squair, appears to be quite an innovator, making SUNY Oneonta an innovator in Upstate Medical’s novel “pool testing.”)
And alumnus Bill Pullman starred in “Independence Day.” You can’t get much better than that.
SUNY Oneonta dropped the ball when COVID-19 arrived. That was then; recent, but then.
This is now.
The SUNY Oneonta community must want to return to what it was, a campus on the make. With its particular COVID mess behind it, the SUNY Oneonta community should strive, as one, to be a Model of the Reopening.
With two anti-COVID vaccines coming online, with the wide local acceptance of masks and social distancing, with the high-level of community sensitivity to COVID, it can be done.
The online petition – only a fraction of the faculty, some 71 out of 500 professors and instructors, have signed it – takes on Craig and Provost Leamor Kahanov personally.
While no doubt well meaning, the petition drive seems to be the wrong instrument at this point.
Of the many issues raised, the one about sensitivity to relatives of faculty who may have pre-existing conditions resonates most. But it’s hard to believe the administration would not seek to ensure what protection it can to people under particular threat of COVID.
No doubt the key players in the campus hierarchy are as imperfect as the rest of us, but – at this critical point in SUNY Oneonta’s history – let’s all pull together behind the people who, more than ever, need wide support.
And that includes the campus community and the rest of us, the public at large.