Incoming President Robert J. Jones said he won’t forget the humanities in his efforts to transform the University at Albany into an elite research institution.
Jones said he understands the important role the humanities play in a world-class education. His focus is raising standards throughout the entire university and delivering a well-rounded education both inside and outside of the classroom.
The slashing of humanities majors such as French, Russian, Italian, classics and theater in 2010 has been criticized by staff and faculty.
“Excellence will undergird everything we do at this great university,” Jones said Friday at a brief introductory news conference in the college’s new Liberty Terrace dormitory.
The 61-year-old Jones will take over in January as UAlbany’s 19th president. He comes from the University of Minnesota, where he had spent his entire 34-year career, beginning as an assistant professor.
“I had no intention of staying any more than four years, and then I was going to take that job I turned down in the corporate sector,” he said of his arrival at the University of Minnesota.
Jones stayed on and rose through the ranks of administration, spending the last eight years as senior vice president for academic administration.
He said UAlbany represented the right opportunity for him. He was impressed with the university’s five-year master’s degree program, completed in 2010, its breadth of programs and its focus on research, particularly the work at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the just-announced plan to build a $165 million complex technology incubator complex.
“It was a complete package for me,” he said.
Jones acknowledged that developing high tech is an area of focus for all higher education institutions.
“Everybody is chasing after the latest ‘-ology,’ ” he said.
Jones said he will make several visits to the campus during the next few months to get to know staff and learn about the issues. Then, when he officially starts in January, he can spend the first three months developing priorities.
Jones also said he was unaware of a potential issue of great interest to the college and the Capital Region: whether the New York Giants will continue to hold their summer training camp at UAlbany.
“I thought it was a done deal,” he said.
SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall and Provost David Lavallee were effusive in their praise of Jones.
“I think this campus is really fortunate to have found a dynamic leader that you’ve been hoping for,” McCall said.
There was a lighthearted moment when Lavallee told Jones, “If anything happens that you don’t anticipate, we’re here to help,” and then handed the new president an umbrella.
Jones will receive an annual salary of $385,000 with a supplement of $110,000 from the campus’ allocation of research funds through the Research Foundation. He will also receive a $60,000 housing allowance and have access to a vehicle.
Board of Regents member James O. Jackson said Jones has excellent interpersonal skills, which will help him develop relationships outside of the university with businesses such as Albany Medical Center and GlobalFoundries. Jones also will bring stability to UAlbany.
“We need this kind of commitment,” Jackson said.
The UAlbany president’s position has been a bit of a revolving door in the past decade. The last president of lengthy tenure was Karen Hitchcock, who served from 1995 to 2004. Kermit Hall took over as president in 2005 but died 18 months later.
Susan Herbst served as acting president from 2006 to 2007, when George Philip took over on an interim basis. Philip was appointed permanent president in June 2009 and announced in November 2011 his plan to retire once a successor was found.