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10 September 2006 @ 10:08 am
President Sutin to leave CCAC July 31

Saturday, September 09, 2006
By Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The son of a public school teacher, Stewart Sutin once expressed hope that empathy for his mother's chosen work would soften his own transition from the banking world to the presidency of Community College of Allegheny County.

Hired from Mellon Financial in 2003, he cast himself as an agent for change, boosting fund raising and pushing CCAC's four distinct campuses to operate more closely under a single college identity. But some of his most outspoken critics proved to be the faculty with whom he had hoped to find common ground.

Yesterday, with a faculty vote of no confidence under way and county leaders calling for tighter controls and oversight at the school, Dr. Sutin, 61, announced his intent to leave the college on July 31, a year before his contract expires.

He said he was doing so because much of his agenda had been achieved. He said the early departure is unrelated to a petition by the American Federation of Teachers or a string of controversies over spending and decision-making, including an attempt to withhold the college's budget from the public in May that triggered sharp criticism from state and county officials.

Dr. Sutin is relinquishing the final year of his contract and will not receive a buy-out. But CCAC board chairman Paul Whitehead said he will recommend to trustees who meet Sept. 18 that Dr. Sutin receive up to a year's medical insurance until he finds other employment, plus any accrued vacation. Dr. Sutin's salary is $220,469.

"I didn't come to the organization to be popular, and I'm not leaving looking for popularity. I'm leaving having felt that I have delivered some very consequential results," Dr. Sutin said.

He said CCAC now is more focused on work force development, and that a college at financial risk when he arrived had managed to stabilize its $93 million budget without a tuition increase. He said a five-year strategic plan is in place as well as other administrative improvements.

Speaking at yesterday's news conference, officials including county Chief Executive Dan Onorato noted gains by the Sutin administration, even as they made clear they plan an aggressive effort to bring tighter oversight in the wake of disclosures about questionable travel spending by college leaders and other practices, some of which predate Dr. Sutin.

"You're going to see a tightening of internal control rules, a limiting of travel and other discretionary expenditures, and you're going to see that only critical positions are filled," Mr. Onorato said.

He alluded to a special audit of the college that is under way and said a blue ribbon panel will be created, funded by local foundations, that will seek to benchmark how closely CCAC is meeting the region's work force development and educational needs.

He also said he hoped the problems would not distract from the increasingly vital role CCAC plays in the region. "We want to make sure the good work of the college continues," he said.

Dr. Sutin had recently said he had no intention of stepping down. Word of an announcement about the college's future yesterday caught much of the college by surprise and followed a meeting that Dr. Sutin sought Sept. 1 with Mr. Onorato.

Campus vice presidents were briefed via conference call about 30 minutes before yesterday's news conference.

Mr. Onorato, who said Dr. Sutin's decision was his own, attended the news conference along with Mr. Whitehead and Rich Fitzgerald, president of County Council. They all expressed overall support for the college's mission and general direction.

"We are now one of the most scrutinized community colleges in the United States," Mr. Whitehead said. "I continue to believe this organization will be better in the long run for what it has gone through over the last year."

Officials said CCAC will hire a chief operating officer, who will assume some day-to-day managerial duties at CCAC, allowing Dr. Sutin to focus more on external relations and fund raising.

A native of New York City, Dr. Sutin was a senior vice president in international banking at Mellon when CCAC trustees tapped him to run a college struggling with rising costs and stagnant government aid. Trustees said they hoped his financial savvy and ties with the business community would help the college develop more private fundraising.

Indeed, annual fund raising of $675,000 the year he arrived has now reached $1.8 million. And the school says it is weeks away from opening its new West Hills Center, a work force development showplace that is part of a push by the college to be more attentive to area employer needs.

But cost overruns and a delay in the center's opening became emblematic of a growing list of complaints by detractors on and off campus. Dr. Sutin was criticized by some faculty in 2004 for double-digit pay raises for administrators at a time the school was cutting programs.

Three-quarters of its North Campus faculty signed an open letter of concern in October. Later, word the college had spent $48,000 in public money to pay relocation costs for two executives -- including closing costs on a home -- sparked criticism from county officials including Mr. Onorato.

At faculty meetings held to discuss the no-confidence vote, some faculty complained of administrative "chaos," a lack of collegiality and said they felt CCAC's 4 percent enrollment decline was exacerbated by ill-advised decisions to cancel popular courses. They said bad publicity, including scaling back the Bethel Park Center, had damaged CCAC's reputation.

"I think we need to stop the bleeding and start working to move ahead," union President John Dziak told one group last week in urging them to sign the petition.

Yesterday, Mr. Dziak said half the faculty union's membership had signed the no confidence petition thus far, but "it's now moot."

"I respect his decision," Mr. Dziak said. "I think people will work with Dr. Sutin to see that the year will be a successful year for him and for CCAC."

One CCAC trustee, state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., said he believes Dr. Sutin probably decided it was in the college's best interest for him to move on. For that, he said, "I give him credit."

He said the president implemented initiatives to advance the college. "Were there missteps? Sure. But again, those missteps were acknowledged."
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Feelin' : surprisedsurprised