After 26 years at Geneseo, Vice President for Administration and Finance Kenneth Levison will retire at the close of the academic year.
"I came to Geneseo expecting to be here for about three years and then to move on," Levison said. "Now I've been here for 26 years and I don't regret a bit of it. All the people here understand what this college is about and that's rare in higher education."
Levison came to Geneseo in 1985 after working for the New York State Division of the Budget from 1978 to 1985. He holds a doctorate in German language and literature from Harvard University and taught at St. John Fisher College before landing the job with New York state. Here at Geneseo, Levison heads Geneseo's Division of Administration and Finance but also periodically co-teaches sections of Western Humanities II.
"He has an academic background and understands the academic mission of the college," said Associate Provost David Gordon.
Levison initiated the college's continuous quality improvement program, augmented Geneseo's internal controls system to the point where it has been adopted as a "best practice" by the entire State University of New York system and effectively transitioned numerous operations of the college, including registration and billing, from paper to digital processes.
Levison also spearheaded the initiative that led to Campus Auxiliary Services' purchase and renovation of the Big Tree Inn. He transformed a bankrupt business into a debt-free institution "without the use of a penny of taxpayer money and paying all relevant state and local taxes," according to a letter written from President Christopher Dahl to The Rochester Business Journal in 2009. The letter successfully recommended Levison to be recognized as the Journal's Financial Executive of the Year.
"We've been agents of change," Levison said of his team in the Division of Administration and Finance. "We've been willing to look at what works and what doesn't. In order for an institution to be excellent it has to be willing to self-assess what it's doing. The whole college has been willing to do that."
"You're not going to find someone at Geneseo who cares more about the institution than Ken Levison," said CAS Executive Director Mark Scott.
Levison said he is most proud of his ability to work creatively within restrictive rules. "It's not about figuring out how you beat the system, it's how you make things work within the system."
"Ken has a real talent for seeing interrelated pieces and how to make them work best together," said Scott.
"SUNY is one of the most over-regulated university systems in the country," Levison said. "Until the legislature and administrations agree that campus-based logical tuition is the way to go, [administering an effective system] will be continue to be a challenge."
Though he acknowledged bureaucratic obstacles, Levison said his department "can plan strategically and achieve in a restrictive environment."
Levison praised the men and women he works with. "The guy or girl who sits in [my] chair can help communicate a vision … but ultimately success comes when people come together as a group to make things happen," he said.
"He understands that all of our staff – including cleaning staff, grounds workers and everyone – are all important to the mission of the college," Dahl said.
"He takes the time to listen and cares about everybody he meets. He knows everybody," said Teresa Sexton, secretary to the vice president. "I can't imagine him not being here … It's going to leave a huge void in the campus."
Levison said that he thinks the time is right for him to retire as he is "still able and still willing to do other things." He said he is interested in spending more time as a dog show judge. He also said he may consider being an interim CEO for a nonprofit organization so that he can continue to "create value for society."
"We do [create value] here. Every year when I walk into commencement I am very moved. I realize what we've gone through has been worth it," he said.
A national search is being conducted to replace Levison; the search committee is now screening candidates and hopes to invite finalists to campus in early May.
There will be a campus-wide farewell reception for Levison on May 11 from 2 - 4 p.m.