Editorial Board

An evaluation of Kent Syverud’s performance so far as chancellor of Syracuse University

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Chancellor Kent Syverud began his tenure in April 2014 following the departure of Nancy Cantor.

In his three years as chancellor of Syracuse University, Kent Syverud has faced some backlash for his lack of shared governance and transparency. But the chancellor should be commended for the work he has done since his inauguration in April 2014 to strengthen the university across the board and balance a budget decimated by his predecessor.

Following former Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s tumultuous tenure, Syverud was asked by the Board of Trustees to step in and fix the financial ruin Cantor left behind. Syverud said at a University Senate meeting in November that the university had reached a generally balanced budget, which was among several ambitious goals he set for his administration. Others include the development and implementation of a strategic plan to improve the university’s academics and a framework to enhance its infrastructure, two things he should be commended for.

Syverud’s ambition and legal mindset have often painted a picture among faculty of a man who operates on his own agenda and follows his instincts rather than feedback from the university community. Faculty who feel disgraced and unheard have a right to their complaints regarding Syverud’s leadership style considering the larger decisions made by his administration, including the closing of the Advocacy Center, have lacked shared decision-making from the university community.

Syverud’s style of leadership is indicative of larger trends in higher education, including a lack of transparency and shared governance. While these issues —  which are not any more problematic at SU than they are at the institution — do not excuse Syverud’s pattern of announcing major decisions without first consulting constituents at length, they do contextualize the political atmosphere at SU. In this way, they should serve as a reminder to disgruntled faculty that Syveurd is making decisions that will help SU succeed financially in the long run.

Although the chancellor’s decision-making process has often lacked thorough communication, many of his choices can be justified in the name of financial stability. Achieving a balanced budget and helping the university thrive financially were crucial tasks assigned to him, and he has, for the most part, acted on the goals he set out to accomplish.

There is room for improvement, though. If there’s anything tangible that Syverud must improve based on the first three years of his tenure, it’s clear and direct communication with the university community. Most the hiccups under Syverud’s leadership have been the results of a lack of clarity and transparency from the administration.

When shared governance is not possible, the administration must make the SU body aware that while they are not going to be involved in the decision-making process, they will be informed in a timely and thorough manner about the justification behind the decision. Although faculty members particularly must remember they do not have an inherent right to deliver input on decisions that are made by high-level administrators, they do deserve clear and thorough explanations for decisions that impact the university community.

Despite these bumps in the road, Syverud has proven himself to be a strong leader with a legal mindset that lends itself to meticulous and determined decision-making. Syverud has succeeded in many of the realms he hoped to at the start of his tenure, and can only benefit going forward by furthering communication with the university community to better explain the SU administration’s decisions.

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