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SUNY Old Westbury picks new president from Prairie View A&M

Timothy Sams is currently vice president of student

Timothy Sams is currently vice president of student affairs for Prairie View A&M University in Houston. Credit: SUNY Old Westbury

SUNY Old Westbury has hired a veteran administrator as its new president, who said his goal is to elevate the school's reputation as he navigates the liberal arts college through the challenges of the COVID-19 era.

Timothy Sams, 52, will bring his 29 years of administrative experience to the college around Jan. 11, and receive an annual salary of $275,000, according to school officials. He succeeds Calvin O. Butts III, who retired at the end of August after leading the college for 21 years.

Sams' experience can advance the school's mission of championing diversity, social equality and helping the less fortunate achieve success, said Mili Makhijani, chair of the college council and head of the presidential search committee. The final decision was made by the State University of New York Board of Trustees.

"We mostly serve the underserved," Makhijani said. "He doesn't just talk about social justice, he lives it. It's about race, it's about gender, it's about veterans."

Sams is currently vice president of student affairs for Prairie View A&M University in Houston, where he worked on promoting the school's inclusivity and helped create the university's LGBTQ+ Resource Center and residential college. He also has served as senior vice president for student development at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and vice president for student life at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.

He also led the Black Cultural Center at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, which is considered among the most diverse colleges in the country. SUNY Old Westbury is the most diverse of all of SUNY's 64 schools.

Sams said he aims to remove the roadblocks experienced by many students as they strive to succeed.

"SUNY Old Westbury benefits from an engaged faculty, a community who cares for its students, and stakeholders who fully understand the educational gem that it is and can further become," Sams said. "I cannot wait to get to work."

Sams said he understands that many of his first challenges will be linked to the coronavirus, such as expected budget cuts from the state and serving a student body of 5,000 students largely learning remotely.

He said he will look into safely reopening at least a portion of the campus' housing for students, since many are struggling to learn remotely from home.

As for the expected funding cuts, he said he understands that the role of college president makes him "chief fundraiser for the school," and he hopes that in heightening the school's reputation, he can attract donors. He said many private donors have been supporting those institutions dedicated to social justice.

"We are one of those schools," he said. "We want to elevate our brand and make it clear to everyone that we are investment-worthy, and we are the kind of school they want to partner with."

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