SUNY Old Westbury announces new president

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Timothy E. Sams was named the new president of SUNY Old Westbury this week. (Photo courtesy of SUNY Old Westbury)

After a yearlong search, the State University of New York Board of Trustees announced this week that they have appointed a veteran administrator to serve as president of SUNY Old Westbury.

Timothy E. Sams, who currently serves as vice president of student affairs for Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, will succeed the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III, who retired at the end of August after nearly 21 years at the college.

The appointment concludes a 10-month search process that included an 18-member search committee representing a wide range of campus and state constituencies. RPA Inc., an executive search firm with a focus in higher education, assisted in the process, the university said.

“Dr. Sams has dedicated his adult life to creating dynamic academic and social communities that support the development of college students,” said Mili Makhijani, chair of the SUNY Old Westbury College Council. “His career-long commitment to student engagement and advocacy matches strikingly well with Old Westbury’s ongoing emphasis on student equity and success, as well as its historic commitment to empowering students, especially those from underserved backgrounds, to excel as leaders both in their careers and in the communities in which they live and work.”

Sams said in a phone interview that when he applied for the position 10 months ago, he was intrigued by SUNY Old Westbury because he saw qualities in it that he hadn’t seen at other schools.

“So when I begin to delve into that those things came back in the affirmative and ways that I had not felt at other or with regard to other schools, I think most especially the commitment to students, commitment to diversity, commitment to excellence, commitment to social justice and sustainability are truly unique to Old Westbury,” Sams said.

As the senior vice president for student development at Morehouse College, he held a portfolio that included Student Services, Enrollment Management, Campus Safety, and Athletics, among other units. Earlier in his career, as vice president for student life at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he led such services as Residential Life, Health and Mental Health Services, the Campus Center, and Career Services. He is also credited as inaugurating the Student Life Office at New York University-Abu Dhabi and, for 13 years, leading the Black Cultural Center at Swarthmore College.

Sams’ career also includes reaccreditation and two strategic plans, student success, efforts to increase student and staff diversity, and elevating residential college models at three institutions. He helped create the nation’s first ROTC Center of Excellence, a campus-based PrEP program, a J-Mester program, a bridge program, an undergraduate completion program, an experiential learning and cultural immersion program in Ghana, West Africa, two major LGBTQ support initiatives, a student emergency resource center, and a $1.5 million federal community intervention grant.

The soon-to-be president says he seeks to bring about civic and community engagement throughout the college.

“Ultimately training students who can change the world and who can save the world in the environmental sense, that’s what drives me,” Sams said. “That’s what’s always driven me and to be at a place where we collectively believe that and I’m not an outlier, but expected to believe that and facilitate the way in which the entire community of people believe in those things is probably the most exciting thing I can ever see myself doing.”

A native of Syracuse, Sams earned a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from Union College in Schenectady, a master’s degree in Africana studies from the University at Albany, and a Ph.D. in African American studies from Temple University. He is also an MSI Aspiring Leaders Fellow and the recipient of the 2020 Champions for Student Success Award from American Campus Communities.

“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. “Together with them, and with support from the SUNY Board of Trustees, the Chancellor and the College Council, we will continue to elevate the college and thereby transform even more students’ lives and impact the world. I cannot wait to get to work.”

Teresa A. Miller, SUNY senior vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer, has served as officer-in-charge at SUNY Old Westbury since Butts’ departure in August. “SUNY Old Westbury has a strong foundation and is poised to excel under new leadership,” Miller said. “The campus is eager to welcome Dr. Sams. As I continue my role at SUNY, I look forward to working with him to advance the College, its mission and its students.” Sams will take office effective “on or about Jan. 11, 2021,” according to the school.

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