SUNY chancellor departs for Ohio State University

Kristina Johnson, photo courtesy of the State University of New York

The head of the State University of New York has stepped down after less than three years of service.

Kristina Johnson, who took the helm of the 64-campus SUNY system in September 2017, made the announcement Wednesday.

She is leaving SUNY to serve as the president of the Ohio State University system.

“Dr. Johnson has led SUNY with a deep commitment to providing access and opportunity, while ensuring a premier high-quality education for all our students and propelling our university system to new national heights and recognition,” said the Chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, Merryl Tisch. “We join all New Yorkers in thanking Dr. Johnson for her service and her tireless commitment to issues of equity and excellence, and we wish her the very best on her new opportunity as president of Ohio State University.”

“Leading SUNY has been an honor, and throughout my term I have been energized by the students, our esteemed faculty, and the brilliant leaders I have come to know and value,” said Chancellor Johnson. “New York State has been welcoming …. and I am thankful to have the opportunity to build on SUNY’s strength as a diverse and inclusive higher education system.”

Johnson’s resignation comes as the SUNY system faces financial hardships and a logistical nightmare amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Campuses were forced to refund room and board payments for the spring and summer semesters. Enrollment is also lower as campuses struggle with the decision on whether or not to hold in-person classes or continue with a distance learning model this fall.

“This departure leaves me dismayed and disappointed given its inopportune timing, said Fred Kowal, the president of the United University Professions, which represents 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees from 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health sciences centers in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Long Island and Syracuse.

“Right now, the University is wrestling with how to safely reopen campuses in the fall after being forced to shut down for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. SUNY also faces a financial situation that has gone from precarious to critical because of the pandemic.”

Johnson collected a $560,000 salary as the chancellor of SUNY, the nation’s largest public university system.

She is an electrical engineer and a Fulbright scholar who holds 118 patents. Prior to joining SUNY, Johnson was the co-founder and CEO of Cube Hydro Partners, LLC, a clean-energy infrastructure company focused on building and operating hydropower plants in North America.
Johnson helped grow the company from one plant to 19 plants on 10 rivers in five eastern states—enough to power 150,000 homes with clean energy.

Johnson also served as Under Secretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy under President Obama. She serves on the board of directors of Cisco Systems, Inc.

The SUNY Board said Johnson will continue her duties as SUNY chancellor to help prepare campuses for fall semester until an interim leadership structure is appointed.

“SUNY desperately needs steady leadership as campuses plan for the fall. On June 1, UUP released its guidelines to safely reopen SUNY campuses. However, we have heard little from SUNY and almost nothing from the chancellor on this issue,” Kowal said.

“We had high hopes for Chancellor Johnson when we welcomed her to SUNY in 2017. While we are dismayed at the timing of her departure, we wish her well in her next endeavor.”