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Some SUNY ESF students say president should go

Tom Magnarelli
Quentin Wheeler, president of SUNY ESF, addresses students last week.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry President Quentin Wheeler addressed students last week regarding his decision to remove three department chairs from their positions. Some students said it is Wheeler who should be replaced.

Wheeler said the change in chairs was an exception made under extenuating circumstances. He said in retrospect, he wants to make it clear to the chairs what he expects.

“The system is set up so that chairs serve at the pleasure of the provost and ultimately the president, because they are an essential part of that team," Wheeler said. "When you start really moving the organization, you have to have everyone pulling in the same direction.”

He said there were no particular conflicts with the department chairs. One of those chairs, Donald Leopold, said Wheeler called them saboteurs and backstabbers.

Some students like Becky Stromfeld, a junior, said they were dissatisfied with Wheeler's answers.

“I thought he kept saying very vague language and avoiding questions and saying statements not relevant,” Stromfeld said.

Nick Sims, a sophomore, said he does not agree with rotating leadership.

“I think they didn’t agree with his ideas," Sims said. "But then he talked about how you have to deal with other people. I feel like he’s getting rid of them just to go along with what he wants for the college.”

Kevin Berler graduated from the college in 2007 and attended the meeting to support his former teachers. He said removing the chairs was wrong.

"This seemed more individual," Berler said. "This seemed more of, call it a punishment or targeting than anything. All those individuals, they are spoken in the scientific community with the upmost respect. I never heard one negative thing about them in all my years, from being here on campus to my functions as an alumni." 

The college will conduct a national search for new department chairs.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.