Experience both in the local union and at one of the only two SUNY colleges to share leadership are among strengths longtime SUNY Cobleskill professor Fred Kowal will bring to the 35,000-member United University Professions Union when he begins as its president June 1.
Kowal, 54, a political science professor, was elected to a two-year term during the union’s Spring Delegate Assembly on May 3 and 4.
Kowal, who served as UUP chapter president from 1993 to 2003 and again starting in 2011, arrived at SUNY Cobleskill in 1985. Since then, much has changed, he said Tuesday.
“When I first got involved, times were very different in the sense that SUNY was in much better financial shape,” said Kowal, who also served as the union’s membership development officer from 1999 to 2003 and as a member of the union’s Executive Board from 1995 to 1999.
He said one of his priorities is to develop a better working relationship with SUNY administration and perhaps bring cooperation back to where it was in the past.
“In the ’90s times were tough and money was scarce but there was a willingness on the part of administration to work with UUP,” Kowal said. “Now, I think that the lack of resources might exacerbate things but beyond that it might also be that the leadership of SUNY doesn’t necessarily see UUP as a full partner.”
He said another goal will be to ensure the union’s members — thousands of academic and professional faculty on 29 state campuses — get a chance to offer their knowledge and expertise to help the SUNY system move forward.
“We are partners in this educational enterprise. We’re all partners, including the legislators. We can contribute together and deal with the scarce resources in a productive and efficient way,” he said.
UUP members, he said, could provide critical guidance on the system’s Open SUNY initiative to bring all SUNY online courses to one place.
“We have faculty who have a great deal of experience dealing with both the positive aspects of online education but also the pitfalls. I think we could provide real guidance,” Kowal said.
Kowal said he began thinking about lobbying for the UUP position when he learned Phillip H. Smith, UUP president since 2008, was planning to retire.
In talks with delegates, he emphasized his experience with shared services — an experiment in having one college president, Candace S. Vancko, at two colleges: SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Delhi.
Kowal said he does not expect shared leadership to be a wave of the future and said the shared leadership has made it difficult for the union to work with administrators, because they weren’t always at the college.
“It can be cumbersome,” he said.
He has also been deeply involved with the agriculture and technology college, which was headed for possible closure in the 1990s.
Kowal, of Warnerville, has two grown sons, one a graduate student at Cornell University and the other working in New York City. He enjoys biking, swimming and other athletic pursuits but said his active gardening may fall victim to the new responsibilities at the union.