‘Quintessential’ leader McCall retires from SUNY board

McCall-ing it a career: SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall (pictured in 2016, with then-SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher) has announced his retirement.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

With some 50 appointed university and college presidents and two appointed chancellors under his belt, H. Carl McCall is taking a victory lap.

The chairman of the State University of New York Board of Trustees announced his retirement this week, after 12 years on the board and eight as its chair. The 83-year-old icon – a former New York state comptroller under Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York State Senator from Manhattan and gubernatorial candidate (he lost to George Pataki in 2002) – said he was stepping aside “to pursue other interests and allow new vision to take SUNY to even higher heights.”

“Serving as SUNY board chairman has been one of my greatest joys, and I could never thank Gov. Cuomo enough for the opportunity,” added McCall, who was appointed to the center seat by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his old boss’ son and one-time rival, in 2011.

McCall’s tenure covered a comprehensive extension of the SUNY system, including a national and international rebranding and a strategic diversification of SUNY administrators and students.

Among the board’s notable accomplishments during McCall’s time was the appointment of SUNY’s first two female chancellors – Nancy Zimpher in 2009 and current Chancellor Kristina Johnson in 2017.

Johnson called McCall “a staunch advocate for the people … throughout his esteemed career in public service.”

Kristina Johnson: One for McCall, McCall for one.

“We have been fortunate at SUNY to have his leadership, intellect, expertise and deep commitment for the students we serve,” the chancellor said in a statement. “He leads by example on our most impactful policies.

“Personally, I admire Carl and have valued his counsel, his support and friendship,” Johnson added.

A longtime favorite of Albany’s Democratic establishment, McCall – educated at Dartmouth College, Yale University’s Andover Newton Theological Seminary and Scotland’s University of Edinburgh – filled numerous influential roles throughout his lengthy career.

In addition to those nine years as comptroller and three terms on the State Senate, McCall served as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and president of the New York City Board of Education, among other high-profile jobs.

Andrew Cuomo – the then-U.S. housing secretary who lost a rough-and-tumble Democratic gubernatorial primary to McCall in 2002, and later tapped him to head up the SUNY trustees – called the chairman “a quintessential public servant” and labeled his retirement “bittersweet.”

“Chairman McCall never turned down an ask to help and demonstrated his unmatched commitment to New York and our nation time and time again,” the governor said Wednesday. “His accomplishments are numerous but he will long be remembered for his deep commitment to equality, diversity and access to education to ensure New York’s students, especially from underserved areas, are provided with a high-quality and affordable education.

“SUNY is stronger because of Chairman McCall’s leadership,” Cuomo added. “His legacy and impact on all New Yorkers will carry on long after he steps down.”

McCall is not quite finished building that legacy. The outgoing chairman, who will execute his duties through June 30, plans to remain busy after retiring: McCall is scheduled to teach a course this fall at the University at Albany and is dutifully completing a memoir that reflects on his 50 years of public service.

“It has been both rewarding and challenging to help direct the academic fates of our nation’s brightest stars,” he said. “Thanks to wonderful colleagues on the board and two outstanding chancellors, we have carried out this charge with unbridled commitment, integrity, innovation and compassion.

“SUNY has always been a beacon of light in New York State,” McCall added. “Manning this lighthouse has been my deepest honor.”