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Kristina M. Johnson appointed SUNY chancellor

Kristina M. Johnson, when she was undersecretary of

Kristina M. Johnson, when she was undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy during President Barack Obama's administration. Johnson was appointed on Monday, April 24, 2017, to be the next chancellor of the State University of New York, starting Sept. 5. Credit: US Dept. of Energy

Kristina M. Johnson, an engineer and academic who helped develop technology for 3-D imaging and served as a federal energy undersecretary, was named the 13th chancellor of the State University of New York on Monday.

The nine SUNY trustees at the meeting in Albany voted unanimously to approve Johnson’s appointment. Chairman H. Carl McCall and other trustees noted Johnson’s experience in business, government and academia in endorsing her to lead the 64-campus system — one of the nation’s largest.

Johnson, 59, is the founder and current chief executive of Cube Hydro Partners LLC, which operates 19 hydroelectric generation facilities on rivers in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, providing energy to communities and businesses.

She served as U.S. undersecretary of energy in President Barack Obama’s administration from 2009 to 2010 and earlier was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“I look forward to the entrepreneurial vision Dr. Johnson will bring to SUNY,” McCall said. In an earlier statement, he noted Johnson’s distinguished career as “a faculty member, administrator and visionary in higher education but also a public servant, national energy czar, successful entrepreneur and an acclaimed inventor.”

Johnson’s appointment is effective Sept. 5 at an annual salary of $560,000.

She succeeds Nancy L. Zimpher, 70, SUNY’s leader since 2009, who announced last year she would depart the post on June 30. Zimpher, the first woman to be chancellor, is credited with raising the system’s national profile.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a statement, praised Johnson for her “proven track record of leadership and innovation.”

“New York is leading the way in public higher education, and Dr. Johnson will help maintain the upward trajectory of one of the nation’s largest systems of higher education,” the governor said.

In brief remarks after the vote, Johnson, who was reared in Illinois and Colorado, talked about how her mother, an Irish immigrant who settled in New York, valued learning.

Higher education, Johnson said, is “the greatest investment of our society.”

“I’m grateful to serve a system and a state where the governor has made higher education front and center,” she said.

In closing, she thanked her wife, Veronica, and said, “We will be great partners in powering SUNY.”

She will be eligible for university housing in Albany, a university vehicle and driver for use on official university business and a living stipend when working from SUNY’s offices in Manhattan. SUNY trustees will appoint interim leadership for the period between June and September at their board meeting on June 21, officials said.

Johnson was selected after a nine-month international search that included a broad range of stakeholders, McCall said.

In a statement before the vote, Johnson called SUNY “a complex, captivating system like no other in higher education, and the opportunity to serve as its chancellor is the highest honor of my career.”

The new chancellor takes the reins of SUNY at a changing time. The system served 1.3 million students, 600,000 of whom were in credit-bearing courses in the 2015-16 academic year, and is preparing to see an influx of new applicants through Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship.

That program, funded in the state budget, would provide free tuition at SUNY and City University of New York schools to qualified full-time students who agree to live in the state after graduation. The first cohort of students would begin receiving the benefit in the fall semester provided that their families earn less than $100,000 in adjusted gross income.

State officials and experts believe the program would boost enrollment at SUNY’s colleges even if admissions standards remain the same. On Long Island, Farmingdale State College, Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury are the four-year institutions; Nassau Community College and Suffolk County Community College are the two-year institutions.

Several college and university leaders welcomed the new chancellor on Monday.

“Her background and focus on students are ideal for SUNY at this time,” Farmingdale State College President John S. Nader said. “SUNY’s ability to attract the best candidates to its leadership positions speaks volumes about its quality and stature. We look forward to working with Chancellor Johnson.”

Nassau Community College President W. Hubert Keen, who has spent 41 years as an administrator and faculty member at several SUNY institutions, noted the complexity of the SUNY system.

“Dr. Kristina Johnson’s credentials are impressive, and the diversity and depth of her experiences will serve her well as the new chancellor of the State University. The breadth and complexity of SUNY places special demands on its leader, and Dr. Johnson brings to the role an outstanding portfolio of experience and talents,” Keen said in a statement.

Fred E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions, a union representing more than 42,000 SUNY faculty and staff, said he was “very encouraged” by Johnson’s appointment. Kowal praised Johnson’s record as dean of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, where she increased faculty hiring and research spending.

“SUNY needs more full-time faculty, a need that will become more apparent with an expected influx of students under the Excelsior Scholarship program. Dr. Johnson’s prior willingness to hire additional faculty will serve SUNY and its students well,” Kowal said.

An advocate for women in leadership and technology, Johnson increased the percentage of women faculty from 6 percent to 19 percent in Duke’s engineering school during her tenure there. While at Johns Hopkins, she bolstered faculty-led research initiatives.

Johnson holds 118 U.S. and international patents. She became a member of the National Academy of Inventors and the National Academy of Engineering in 2016 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, together with Gary Sharp, in 2015, for the development of polarization-control technologies that enabled high quality 3-D movies and TV.

Johnson holds a bachelor’s of science, a master’s of science and a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

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