EDITORIAL: SUNY chancellor looks familiar

IF THE NAME John King, Jr. doesn’t sound familiar it’s understandable. When he was here previously he worked in Albany but traveled around the state. He was New York State Commissioner of Education. And if that doesn’t ring a bell, what about the term “opt out.” It was a tactic thousands of parents adopted in the last decade when, for different reasons, they refused to send their elementary and junior high school kids to public school rather than allow them to take multiple choice exams.

Chancellor King was also the United States Secretary of Education in the Obama administration.

This week the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) announced that Mr. King has been chosen to to serve as chancellor.

The release from the Education Department said that SUNY has “about 1.3 million students among its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty….’

“Chancellor King is currently the president of The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students in early childhood, K-12 education, and higher education. Prior to his appointment to that post in 2017, Chancellor King served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, who called him ‘an exceptionally talented educator,’” the release said.

It’s true. His resume is extraordinary. But as resumes usually do, the one that mentions his time as commissioner overlooks the issue that appears to have led to his departure from that post. There was nothing scandalous about it but the intensity of the young education commissioner defending what he believed was the best way to educate New York State’s children—regardless of what their parents wanted–was upsetting to some people. It wasn’t just the parents, either. The teachers’ unions were also unhappy about his approach. The chancellor’s thin skin was too thin for Albany politics.

But Chancellor King’s accomplishments since leaving the state capital are numerous and focused on improvements that help all students, so it makes sense to hire a person as experienced as John King, Jr. to oversee the entire SUNY system.

But there will be a test of one kind or another.

The day before the announcement of the appoint of Chancellor King the Times Union newspaper ran a Front Page story under the headline, “A future without Regents exams.” The timing of that article is likely to be coincidence, but assume for a moment that the Regents do plan a major revision of the iconic tests or even abandoning the Regents tests altogether. The subject comes up from time to time.

Initiatives like that have a way of mushrooming into controversy not progress. So it will take a leader, a mediator and a manager and a visionary willing to absorb criticism and achieve consensus to lead the SUNY system. John King Jr. can be that kind of leader. For the sake of our institutions and our children, I hope he succeeds.

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