Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UAlbany Student Press Interviews President Philip

Last June, George Philip was named the 18th President of the University at Albany, after a search that lasted nearly three years and cost the university more than $300,000 in consulting fees.

"I bring a passion and a historical perspective to the university," Philip said.

His ties date back to his college days, when he attended UAlbany as a student. The history major and math minor graduated with his B.A. in 1969 and M.A. in 1973.

He served as chairman of the University Council from 1996 to 2007 and is a member of the board of directors for the Research Foundation of SUNY. He also served as chair of the President Search Committee that elected Hall.

Philip has vast experience in handling organizations at its highest level. Philip served as executive director of the New York State Teachers' Retirement System since 1995 and as the chief investment officer since 1992. NYSTRS is "one of the 10 largest public retirement funds in the nation, with more than 400,00 members and managed assets of $105 billion." according to the UAlbany Web site,

Philip said his primary concern is to move forward with university affairs, continuing with construction of various sections of campus.

"We want to move full-speed ahead," Philip said. "The problem is, construction is moving too slow."

One concern that was brought to light with the ongoing construction is that in addition to new facilities, some campus buildings, including dorms, need to be rehabilitated.

"I was in the first class to live in the uptown campus - Dutch tower in 1965 - so I know these buildings are dated," Philip said.

One specific project Philip wants to see put into place is a 30,000 square foot expansion of the Campus Center.

He said when it was originally constructed it was made for 10,000 students. Today, UAlbany is home to more than 18,000 students. The project will happen, according to Philip, but dates have not yet been announced.

There were talks of a new $60 million state-of-the-art, multi-sport stadium, but that project never came to fruition. Now, a new stadium is "not in the cards" because of the current economic climate, said Philip, a huge supporter of the UAlbany Athletic Department.

He called it an unfortunate situation for the university athletics.

"Upgrades are necessary," he said. "We have a world-class track team, but can't have home meets because we don't have a regulation track. We bring these great athletes here, so we should provide for them."

In terms of academics, Philip has witnessed the bright spots at UAlbany over the years, including the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the numerous highly ranked graduate programs, both of which he said he is proud of but won't take credit for.

Philip said he wants to invest more in several strong existing programs, like the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. Raising political awareness with students is on his agenda.

"We live in the Capital, this should be a particular area of strength for us," Philip said.

The search for a new UAlbany president came after Kermit Hall, 17th president of UAlbany, drowned while vacationing in South Carolina on Aug. 13, 2006.

After Hall's death, Susan Herbst, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs, took over UAlbany's top leadership position. Herbst left for a top administrative job in Georgia's public university system in October 2007.

On Nov. 27, 2007, Philip was appointed interim president, while the search for Hall's replacement got underway.

The search for president came to a halt after the top three of five potential candidates dropped out earlier this year: Dr. Beheruz N. Sethna, president of the University of West Georgia; Richard H. Wells, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; and Barbara Couture, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The SUNY Board of Trustees came to their decision a month after the University at Albany Council and President Search Committee recommended Philip to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

Initially, it was reported Philip had no interest in taking the job permanently, but had a change of heart after speaking with Zimpher on the matter.

"I had several lengthy conversations with the chancellor," said Philip. "She convinced me that I was best suited because of my ties with the university."

He said Zimpher was confident he could bring the UAlbany to "the next level."

Philip said there is something brewing and planning to return to campus that "will make a lot of people happy." The announcement, shrouded in mystery, involves "strategic alliances that will enhance the university greatly."

According to Philip, he was unable to speak on the matters, but "lots of projects will be announced in the near future."

Philip said he is optimistic about the direction the university is going.

"I had a wonderful experience at UAlbany, and I'm very grateful for a public education," Philip said. "I'm a big proponent of access - access to a quality education."

"I want to make sure your degree is worth more tomorrow than it is today."

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