New SUNY chancellor “excited to dig in”

Legislative Gazette photo by Bryce Eckwall
The incoming SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson meets with reporters in Albany Tuesday, her first day on the job.

New SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson spent her first day on the job getting acquainted with her surroundings.

Like many of SUNY’s approximately 600,000 students, Johnson is settling into unfamiliar surroundings, between trips to Target to get the chancellor’s residence into comfortable shape and meeting with the SUNY executive advisory team, to dealing with a scrum of reporters.

Also like many of SUNY’s students, she followed simple motherly advice in preparation for her first day.

“My mom used to tell me, ‘Ok, put your clothes out the night before and make sure that you start and get there on time, and then the whole day will go on time.’”

Johnson, the former under secretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy for Barack Obama and dean of the school of engineering at Duke University, brings impressive experience from the academic world, as well as energy and technology.

Johnson will be charged with navigating the uncharted territory of SUNY’s Excelsior Scholarship Program, which provides free tuition to students from households earning less than $100,000.

Johnson said that the scholarship program — which was implemented this semester — was a big part of what excited her about the job. There have been concerns about unforeseen consequences such as tuition increases for ineligible students as well as budget deficits.

“We’ll do what we can to raise money to support all our students going to school. I went to school on scholarship. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise,” Johnson said.

Johnson has a doctorate in optics and photonics and was particularly impressed by the recent facilities built on Poly’s campus.

Rather than dwell on the controversy surrounding the project and the upcoming trial of former Gov. Cuomo aide Joe Percoco for alleged bid rigging related to the project, Johnson chose to focus on the economic opportunities the campus offers the state’s economy, as well as the potential of all SUNY campuses to fill the role as economic drivers for the areas surrounding their campuses.

“I’ve toured SUNY Poly and it is an unbelievable facility. What we do here at SUNY can be a balancing way to Silicon Valley in terms of semi-conductor and nanostructure,” said Johnson. “I’m excited to dig in and make it work.”

Johnson follows Nancy Zimpher who served as chancellor from June 2009 to September 2017 and will be earning $560,000 a year.