Post Classifieds

One year later: An interview with Buffalo State College President Aaron Podelefsky

On October 2, 2011

Buffalo State president Aaron Podolefsky came on as president of Buffalo State last year, and immediately began to deal with budget cuts, a new smoking ban and the college's first-ever Year of the Arts. He sat down with the Record to talk about his first year at the college and his plans for the future.

When you first came here what were your first impressions of the college?

My first impressions were that it's a good, solid place. It has the values that are important to me —  that is, an institution where students are highly valued, where we care about students, where the faculty and staff put students first.


Have those initial impressions changed or evolved at all now that you're a year in?

What I've discovered is that the institution is what I thought it is, but if you talk to people around Buffalo, many of the people of Buffalo don't understand everything that goes on here. Many people in Buffalo still refer to this as the teachers' college. It's a very proud heritage and I'm very proud to be part of a school that rose up from the normal school tradition, as is the case with most comprehensive universities. But when I… tell them we have 162 programs, jaws drop.

What was your favorite aspect of your first year here?



Well it was so much more mild than an Iowa winter. I mean, contrary to what people think about Buffalo, we have snow, but it wasn't so darn cold. It never got to 20 or 30 below zero, with a wind chill factor of 70 or 80 below, so I was really excited about that.

What do you think was the most challenging aspect of the first year, either personally or professionally?

I came in at a period where they had several years of budget challenges. The institution had done some budget cutting, but had to some degree…(assumed) the economy would get better, and it didn't. So we were carrying forward not just the challenge last year but in previous years. And that's what we're going to try to work our way out of in a way that is OK for everybody. If we try to balance the budget all of a sudden in one year we're going to crash the system. What people don't realize is, last year's budget cut from the state was larger than the tuition increase, so the net for this year, even though we had this tuition increase…is lower than the previous year... The saving grace is that because we have this 5-year plan we can start looking forward to the future years.

What's the top priority for the year ahead?

The top priority is probably to step back from thinking about how to reduce our budget and look forward to how to take Buffalo State to the next level, whatever that means.

What do you think that Buff State should try to become five or 10 years down the line?

We should be, number one, an institution of opportunity, because we bring in a lot of young men and women from Buffalo and the surrounding areas who can't afford to go to (other colleges.) There are 99 institutions now that charge over $50,000 to go to college. We charge $6,000. We need a place that always holds dearly to that idea that we are a place of opportunity. We need an education that's just about as good as a place that's charging two, three, four times as much. We need to be an institution that helps the city and helps Buffalo grow and respond to its economic challenges. And I'm going to take that on pretty seriously very soon.

Can you explain more about the efforts to reach out to the Buffalo community?

We're becoming very involved in economic development. I'm on some task forces for higher education as an economic driver. We'll probably try to pull together and create synergies among many of the existing organizations such as our small business development center.

What are your thoughts on the smoking ban?

It's interesting. At the last Senate meeting there seemed to be some rethinking about that from the students… I was not able to be there, but from what I heard there seemed to have been some (people asking) ‘Do we really want to do this?' But I think we're going down that road… We will need to be judicious, take our time, not do anything stupid, make sure we have opportunities for people to try to stop smoking, do this in a timely fashion. When you get to my age, you start to turn around and see friends and neighbors with lung cancer, you feel a lot different than you feel when you're a teen. And so it's just got to be the right thing to do. I think it's the right thing to do.

Tell us about Year of the Arts.

It's really pretty exciting. It's interesting, you have an idea and if it turns out to be a good one it develops a mind of its own. We were really deeply concerned about budgets. We were worried about them, we were fretting about them. And that's all well and good. But I feel that the university has to be a place where not only do we spend our time fretting about budgets, but we also have to lift up our spirits and lift up our souls.

What excites you most about where the college is going?

"Nothing makes me feel better than graduation today.  To see the students with their hats on, ‘thank you, Mom' and ‘thank you, Dad,' young folks graduating and getting to go off into the future. That's what excites me.

Is there anything that worries you?

"I don't think so. I think we're on stable ground. We just have to make those continuous, incremental improvements that will get us where we want to go."

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