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UAlbany to oversee think tank


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UAlbany to oversee think tank



ALBANY -- The State University of New York's Nelson A. RockefellerInstitute is in for some changes and possibly a higher profile. Thevenerable think tank, which focuses on state and local governmentfinance, has been around since 1981, but not everyone knows what itdoes.

The most obvious change will be its absorption into the University atAlbany campus, with the Institute's yet-to-be-named director reportingto UAlbany President George Philip.


Butjust as important, the coming changes at Rockefeller Institute mayprovide one of the first indications about how new SUNY ChancellorNancy Zimpher plans to put her stamp on the SUNY system and in theprocess take on its vast, Byzantine central bureaucracy and some of theentrenched players there.


Rethinking the Rockefeller Institutewas occasioned when its longtime director, Richard Nathan, said hewould retire at the end of the year.


Last winter, SUNY set up asearch committee, but according to several sources familiar with thesituation, the effort to find a new director appeared to be breakingdown amid internal discord. Zimpher arrived in New York from Ohio inJune and launched a tour of SUNY's 64 campuses, which is still ongoing.


Lastweek, Zimpher stepped in and via a memorandum to the search committee,told members that Philip would replace SUNY New Paltz President StevenPoskanzer as the chairman of the committee.


"I am grateful forthe initial support and work Steve has provided as chair, and I knowthe committee will move ahead well in the capable hands of GeorgePhilip," wrote Zimpher.


Less clear was how much authority Zimpherwould give to John O'Connor, SUNY's vice chancellor and secretary whoserved as Officer in Charge until Zimpher's arrival. According toseveral people familiar with the situation, search committee memberscomplained O'Connor appeared to be taking charge of the RockefellerInstitute search.


Ultimately, the SUNY trustees have to approvethe new director, but it would be unusual for them to reverse a choiceby the search committee. That group is working with the Korn FerryInternational search firm, which has been hired for $81,500.


SUNYofficials wouldn't comment on the search, citing confidentiality inpersonnel issues. And several search committee members didn't returncalls.


But others said O'Connor became a lightning rod amid fears that he was trying to influence the search.


Fromthat standpoint, Zimpher's memorandum last week could be viewed as anattempt to assert her authority over O'Connor, who is viewed as one ofthe system's most seasoned insiders.


Regardless of the search toreplace Nathan, a nationally recognized expert in government finance,the Rockefeller Institute will be in for some other changes.


It will open a New York City office and perhaps one in Washington, D.C., Zimpher said.


Inher outline, Zimpher also noted the new director will be expected todevelop a plan to increase revenues. Currently, the RockefellerInstitute operates on an approximately $3.5 million to $4 millionbudget, with about 70 percent coming from foundations, governmentagencies and contracts to conduct research and studies.


Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at rkarlin@timesunion.com.

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