August 3 saw several announcements that would affect the leadership of Plattsburgh State’s administration.
President John Ettling announced he would be stepping down from the head job, as well as announcing new interims in the chief diversity officer and provost positions.
After 15 years in his role, Ettling thinks that both he and the college need a change.
‘It’s a demanding job, and it requires an amount of enthusiasm that is hard to maintain for a decade and a half,” Ettling said. “I still love this place, and I enjoy the job, but I’m not as fresh as I was. It needs new leadership.”
Ettling had told SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson of his intentions during the previous academic year.
But then, after he made that call, came the events of last spring semester.
Last February, widespread student protest came after a racist Snapchat was shared by a PSUC student and some thought that the school’s administration mishandled punishment. In the aftermath the Student Association passed a vote of no confidence in Ettling, former Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley and Director of Student Conduct Larry Allen.
“Last year was a tough year,” Ettling said. “It wore on me, I will say that. It made me double-down on my decision to leave. I would have retired a lot earlier if every year was like that.”
Since the events of last semester, Ettling has introduced new initiatives that focus on social justice and diversity, including a social justice task force that met several times over the summer, as well as a bias response team.
“This effort toward social justice and inclusion is something that we probably needed the jolt of the events of last spring to get us to really start moving with energy and purpose in that direction,” Ettling said. “Now we’re moving, and I’m pleased.”
When asked what he would say to those who might still support the no confidence vote to convince them that the administration is serious about these issues, he had a simple response.
“Just wait and see,” Ettling said. “I understand that they could be a little skeptical of our seriousness of purpose, but time will tell that we are serious about this.”
These new initiatives are part of a tangible process Ettling hopes to leave behind for who comes after.
“I want to leave my successor with something that’s been launched and is moving forward,” Ettling said.
Portia Turco, coordinator of the Mental Health Counseling Program and director of the Ward Hall Counseling Clinic, was named interim Chief Diversity Officer.
“She undersands that we’re starting to find a permanent CDI, but, in the meantime, Portia’s the person and I’m very pleased that she accepted the invitation,” Ettling said.
David Hill, former dean of education, health and human services from 2004 to 2010, was hired as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs for one year, while Mike Morgan will resume his Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders role after serving Hill’s new role for the last year.
“He’s an extraordinary person,” Ettling said when speaking of Hill. “He’s competent, he’s organized and he’s collaborative. He was retired and he was bored and wanted to help. I told him, ‘Well, here’s a way you can.’”
As for his replacement, Ettling had some hopes for whomever might get hired, though he has no part in the search process.
“[I hope for] a person who is committed to the path that the school has already embarked,” Ettling said. “A person who is considerably younger than I am, energetic, patient and a good listener. They need to get out of the office and around the campus, and work with all the various constituencies and people that are important to the life of the college.”
When it comes to giving his successor advice, Ettling plans to be even-handed.
“I don’t want to burden whoever is coming in with a bunch of opinions and perceptions and historical grievances and whatever,” Ettling said. “I’ll answer questions, and I’ll give some advice, but I really hope that person, whoever she or he is, will come to their own conclusions and opinions.”
When asked how he hoped to be remembered, he was similarly even-keeled.
“I’ll leave others to offer those kinds of summations of my fifteen years here,” Ettling said. “I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Email Ben Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org