SUNY's Zingale under the gun


By Patsy Nicosia

SUNY Cobleskill President Don Zingale has a strong vision for the campus, a good handle on finances, and is knowledgeable about the challenges facing higher education in the 21st century.
That’s according to a report issued by the State University Faculty Senate after a visit to the campus March 1-3.
Contrast those strengths, however, with Dr. Zingale’s shortcomings listed in the 14-page report:
Problems with personal interactions, ineffective communication, and inconsistent management.
Finalized April 18, the report outlines eight recommendations Dr. Zingale and faculty need to take to resolve their differences.
“The recommendations of a University Faculty Senate visitation requested by Dr. Zingale and former Presiding Officer of the Faculty Melody Eldred are now being considered by campus leaders with the intent to strengthen collective responsibility in challenging times,” said college spokesman Scott Silversten.
Faculty governance requested the report in November, said John Kowal, who succeeded Ms. Eldred, as an alternative to a vote of no confidence in Dr. Zingale.
“It’s a less dramatic but perhaps more thoughtful, more engaging, more transparent alternative,” Professor Kowal said of the Faculty Senate investigation, and one used by other institutions facing leadership challenges.
According to the report:
“The President’s interpersonal style has had negative consequences among almost every constituency: staff, faculty, the College Council, community members and donors,” the report’s authors found.
“Many among these constituencies question whether he has the capacity to be the public face of the institution.”
The report began with a request to the University Faculty Senate for a campus visitation from both Dr. Zingale and then-Campus Governance Leader Ms. Eldred on November 3, 2010.
A request for comments to college faculty, staff, and others was followed by the March 1-3 visit to the campus by Faculty Senate representatives.
Professor Kowal said there’s been a mixed reaction to the report, but he’s fairly comfortable with the recommendations.
“We do need some changes in leadership style,” he said, “and it’s going to be a very critical time for us.
“The Faculty Senate could have sent in someone to keep an eye on our progress but they did not. Implementation sometimes becomes the challenge…I will do all I can to make sure we address this and move ahead.”
Among the report’s findings:
• Faculty believe “Dr. Zingale only accepts input…when it is what he wants to hear.”
• Most of the people the Visitation Team met with did not support Dr. Zingale because of issues related to interpersonal skills.
“…the common perception is that he does not present himself in a positive way and this reflects badly on the campus,” something that has cost him support from almost every constituency: staff, faculty, the College Council, community members, and donors.
• “Given the current situation it may not be possible for Cobleskill and Dr. Zingale to create the necessary communication environment.”
• “Working against his strengths, the President is seen as micromanaging, over-managing, and intruding…”
The report’s recommendations focus on Dr. Zingale’s need to establish a system of “inclusive, open, productive, and routine” communication; build an effective leadership team, implement the collaboratively developed strategic plan, and recognize Cobleskill’s importance in the region.
Report recommendations for the faculty include: addressing qualifications for hiring, tenure, and promotion; review and revise their bylaws; take formal steps to help department chairs become more effective.
The final recommendation calls for progress report to the University Faculty Senate President by the end of the 2012 spring semester.
Professor Kowal said that first step will begin today, Wednesday, at a faculty meeting.
“We have the report. Now we need to look at the recommendations and consider how to implement them. The hope is that it will involve all of the parties involved. There are some concrete things [he Dr. Zingale] has to do…
“In all of my 30 years here, this is the biggest challenge for me and our institution.”