|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 56 - Monday March 15, 2004|
|Standing Up for Equality and Justice: An Uncommon Leader |
by M. Lamadanie, Director, Center for International Programs, State University of New York at Plattsburgh
Dr. Donald C. Peters, former Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, was my supervisor for two years at SUNY Plattsburgh, and I have never met a man who is more committed to helping the less fortunate. This short article will simply tells a little about the kind of warm, friendly, objective and competent human being that he is, and the kind of environment that existed when he arrived here at SUNY Plattsburgh.
When Dr. Peters arrived at Plattsburgh, the student government and faculty had recently passed a vote of no confidence against the president. The division of student affairs was in total disarray. The previous vice president for student affairs and enrollment management had been driven out of office after less than a year on the job by a hostile and deeply entrenched tiny clique of faculty leaders and professionals, all of whom had been employed by the university for at least 20 years in an entitlement, non competitive and under performing milieu. They actively resisted any kind of positive and competitive change!
Generally, these individuals have a pattern of open hostility to anyone who does not come from the small and somewhat isolated town of Plattsburgh. Even before Dr. Peters arrived on campus, certain individuals began a campaign to undermine his employment and to drive him out of office and the university. I personally still encounter and resist the same prevalent process of undermining and scuttling the hiring of new non-white employees which is going on here as standard operating procedure challenged only by few open minded staff.
By having Dr. Peters as my former supervisor, we were able to catapult our international student enrollment from 37 to more than 430 students from more than 50 countries. This success happened during the most acrimonious campus strife that I have ever seen in an academic community.
Often I felt that this place was dysfunctional, internecine bickering, lack of coordination and 3 votes of no confidence in the president, among serious issues of alleged racial bigotry.
All of these factors took a toll on the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie. The work environment became hostile as people started to polarize towards coalitions, and if one was an independent thinker s/he was isolated. Employees were viewed as either “you are with us” or “you are with the president.”
I was personally viewed and classified as an outsider who was supporting the embattled president. Personal politics took a terra firma status on campus. Successful results counted for nothing if you chose not to join the campus “coalition” against the president.
Dr. Peters a strong supporter of the president managed to calm things down and focused on the mission by organizing a vice president council in which all supervisors in student affairs and enrollment management met twice a month to resolve issues and discuss policy implementation. As much as possible, Dr. Peters tried to develop a high level of collegiality among staff in the division.
He often invited senior officers to his home to dinner parties and barbecues, where he was often the sole cook. We discovered that he was not only a great administrator but also a great cook and host. He is the most personable, sensitive, and humble professional I have had the opportunity to work with.
He cares very much about students and staff, and always takes the time to counsel and encourage students and staff to develop their skills. There is no need for me to elaborate on his skills and competence. His achievements at other institutions are outstanding, and I am sure that his vitae and others will speak warmly about his work.
He believes that each person, irrelevant of race, color, ethnicity, national origin or social status should be treated with kindness and dignity and he lived that belief. His open door policy brought students, staff, and the public to his office constantly.
As Sharon, his assistant will tell you, he always made time to see them. Dr. Peters is also an extremely loyal employee. When the small group of faculty continued their attack on the president, Dr. Peters was the only administrator to support and defend Dr. Judson. He is a believer in the philosophy of shared governance.
To that extent, when he was developing our five-year enrollment plan, he and the student affairs staff met with every group on campus and incorporated their contributions into the university-wide plan.
In his two years at Plattsburgh, Dr. Peters’ achievements were outstanding. He reorganized the division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. He allowed for more autonomy of departments, thus allowing directors more direct input into decision making and management of the division.
He restructured health and counseling services in order that under-represented groups would have access to counseling and care. He started the first service learning program on the campus involving students and faculty in the concept of experiential and life long learning. He generated additional funding by increasing enrollment and was able to increase the university’s scholarship budget from $740,000 to $1.4 million.
In summary, Dr. Peters has brought his scholarship, his budgetary, fund raising, and interpersonal skills as well as his overall sound leadership to many universities. He has initiated landmark changes and development on these campuses Dr. Peters is a strong and brave leader with the same philosophy as many of our heroes such as Martin Luther King, President Bill Clinton, and Nelson Mandela.
He is prepared at all times to represent and support the interest of the dispossessed and marginalized people not only in America but also around the globe. He is a leader that we can all be proud of and we wish him all the best as he continues to stand up against the powers of bigotry and racism.
Dr. Peters is now consulting with the government of Dominica and will be returning to higher education in the fall. Meanwhile with the resignation of both Dr Peters and President Judson at SUNY Plattsburgh there is not a single minority administrator at that state public higher education instituition