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Dunn & Nostaja: The Louisville Sluggers

LouisvilleSluggerAlbany Times-Union writer James Odato has an interesting story about how a crisis at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center has created a windfall for private public relations consultants. He writes:

In public and private meetings, the SUNY leaders urged lawmakers last week to add $185 million to the $969 million Gov. Andrew Cuomo has budgeted — about $150 million alone to keep SUNY Downstate afloat. The Brooklyn school and medical campus is on a path to bankruptcy and planning 500 layoffs, largely because of its misguided 2011 acquisition of Long Island College Hospital, which is being closed, according to state reports.

Amid the fiscal challenges, SUNY Downstate President John Williams awarded a no-bid consulting contract for $12,000 per month to a pair of former Albany political operatives now running their own PR firms, Robert Bellafiore and Steve Greenberg.

Ah, yes. Where would our public university systems be without private consultants? Let’s consider, say, the University of Louisville. That’s where former SUNY at Buffalo vice president of health sciences David L. Dunn landed in 2011 after he followed former UB president John Simpson in jumping ship. Dunn was among those getting paid very handsomely by the UB Foundation, in addition to his state salary, back in those halcyon years when UB Believers were straight-facedly asking Albany for $5 billion dollars for UB2020.


After a few years of making this pie-in-the-sky $5 billion request of Albany, with cheerleading from various lobbyists, every local politician, and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Governor Cuomo finally said, “That’s like all the money in the world.” The great UB 2020 plan shrank into something called the NYSUNY 2020 plan, with Buffalo getting $35 million.

Dunn got while the getting was good. Here’s how they greeted him in Louisville.

In a prepared statement, U of L president Dr. James Ramsey said Dunn has the skills to quickly move the university “to the next level” as an academic medical center.

“We sought a national leader for this position and we have found one.”

A year later, here’s how Louisville journalist Terry Boyd described Dunn:

Dr. David Dunn may end up being the best thing that ever happened to local journalism.


Because any reporter walking out of an interview or press conference with Dunn, U of L executive vice president for health affairs, takes away the gnawing suspicion there  are few public figures in Louisville so richly deserving of scrutiny by Louisville’s feeble Fourth Estate.

Personally, Dunn motivates me to come back and look at everything he touches at U of L, at the School of Medicine and most importantly, at University of Louisville Hospital. This is to some extent an issue of the wrong person in the wrong, thankless job.

Instead of someone with diplomatic skills and a willingness to say mea culpa, mea bene culpa when caught, U of L officials selected Dunn – a little god – as the public face of the university.

A little god who is truculent, imperious, officious and superior, yet oddly crude and ham-handed in his obfuscation.


Dunn is not the only luminary from this golden age of big talk at UB to find a place at the University of Louisville. Remember former UB president, err, interim president Scott Nostaja? He was brought to Buffalo by Simpson, where his consulting firm AVCOR caused all kinds of controversy at UB, dating back to 2005, for the secretive nature of its role at the university.

Nostaja did not wind up becoming UB president, and he abruptly “retired.”  Business First covered it this way.

Turns out it was a brief retirement. Nostaja has changed the name of his consulting firm from the meaningless AVCOR to the equally meaningless EXCELCOR.

EXCELCOR is—you guessed it—performing consulting services for the University of Louisville. From the story:

Respondents to an analysis of UofL’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) indicated that one of the university’s biggest strengths is its people.

Consultant Scott Nostaja reported on the SWOT analysis at the first of two open campus forums to provide updates about and get input for the 21st Century University Initiative at the University of Louisville. Another open forum is scheduled for Kornhauser Library auditorium at the Health Sciences Center Thursday, Jan. 31, at 9 a.m.

Nostaja, from the company Excelcor, had met with several campus groups representing faculty, staff and students to gather their perspectives. A SWOT analysis also was online for faculty, staff, students and external stakeholders. All totaled, 650 people completed a SWOT analysis.

Turns out U of L has a 2020 plan of its own. Seems they want to revitalize the university and community by building up their medical school campus—if you can believe such a crazy thing. They even think this “will ultimately leverage the academic and research functions of the University of Louisville into an exceptional economic engine that will result in an influx of high-wage jobs, growing revenue for the region and state.” At least, that’s according to the U of L Development Company, an affiliate of the University of Louisville Foundation, which controls around $750 million, à la the UB Foundation(s).

Click here to read the U of L’s “vision statement.” An excerpt here:

Process: How will we do this?

As always with such endeavors, the outcome will only be as good as the inputs. We want the process to be open, transparent, and inclusive and to mirror the values of shared governance and honest dialogue.. Some of this will be challenging – the idea of change always is – but there are also exciting possibilities that we deserve the right to explore together.

We have been working with the national consulting firm, Excelcor, Inc., to guide us through this exercise…




And here’s one going out by popular request…


Buffalo 2020 Development Corporation in Flux

With all the changes going on at the SUNY Research Foundation and the State University of New York at Buffalo, it seemed like a good time to check on the status of one of the more secretive private entities affiliated with our state university system—Buffalo 2020 Development Corporation.

The group handled $132,000,000 in state funds for construction projects in Buffalo. As reported in The Great UB Heist:

Who are the directors of the Buffalo 2020 Development Corporation? James Weyhenmeyer, the chairman, is also vice president and managing director of the Technology Accelerator Fund at the SUNY Research Foundation. Satish Tripathi, the vice chairman, is the newly-named officer-in-charge of UB and soon to be president.

Buffalo 2020 Development Corporation board members are: David Dunn, vice president for Health Sciences at SUNY Buffalo; Scott Nostaja, who abruptly resigned as senior vice president and chief operations officer at SUNY Buffalo on March 23; John J. O’Connor, senior vice chancellor for Research and Innovation, secretary of SUNY, and president of the Research Foundation of SUNY; Edward P. Schneider, executive director of the UB Foundation; and former UB President John B. Simpson.

Since then, Scott Nostaja quit his job at UB and has resigned from the corporation. Under intense scrutiny, John O’Connor left his positions at SUNY and the SUNY Research Foundation and resigned from the corporation. John Simpson, who quit as UB President, retains his position in the corporation. So does David Dunn, who recently quit his job at UB to go to the University of Louisville. Current UB President Satish Tripathi also retains his position.

The group is supposed to have a meeting in July, but they contend they are not subject to the Open Meetings Law.



Nostaja Quits

Two newspapers at the State University of New York at Buffalo are reporting that Scott Nostaja quietly quit his job last Wednesday as senior vice president for operations. Nostaja only became a state employee last summer, although he had been paid several hundred thousand dollars annually by UB Foundation Activities since 2005, as a consultant helping to mold the UB 2020 plan. Here’s the brief mention of his departure in the UB Reporter. Here’s the story from the UB Spectrum. Business First also published the news this morning.

Seven months ago—when John Barclay Simpson dropped his resignation on the UB community the first day of the fall semester—Nostaja was named interim president of UB. Problems with that quickly arose when it was recognized that he’d been improperly named to that position. Nostaja subsequently withdrew his name, sort of.

Now he is gone, just days after Satish Tripathi was named Officer-in-Charge of the university—soon to be approved by the SUNY Trustees as president.

According to UB spokesperson John Della Contrada, Nostaja’s last day at UB was Friday, March 25. He did not leave a public departure statement.

This letter serves as the official statement from the university, concerning his resignation:

March 23, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I write today to notify you that this afternoon Scott Nostaja informed me of his decision to resign as Senior Vice President for Operations.

I extend my thanks and genuine appreciation to Scott for his many contributions to UB.  During Scott’s tenure at UB, he was instrumental in helping to move our university forward.

On an interim basis, UB departments previously reporting to Scott will now report to the Office of the President with Bob Wagner, Senior Advisor to the Officer in Charge, responsible for managing the day to day issues.  Human Resources Operations will continue to be overseen by James Jarvis.  Human Resources Employee Relations, Wellness, and Employee Assistance Program will continue to be overseen by Jennifer Bowen.  UB Business Services will continue to be overseen by Michael Levine.  The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Affirmative Action will continue to be directed by Sharon Nolan-Weiss.

These reporting relationships will remain in place while I will evaluate UB’s administrative needs to determine the most appropriate organizational structure as we move forward.

I know you join me in extending to Scott best wishes for success in all of his personal and professional endeavors.

Satish K. Tripathi
Officer in Charge



Jeremy Jacobs Looks Forward to Sharing Information

Looks like things are going along as planned at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where, in ten days, John Barclay Simpson will end his presidency.

As you’ll recall, Simpson called it quits on the first day of classes this past fall—as an inspiration to incoming freshmen.

Following the botched coronation of Scott Nostaja by Jeremy Jacobs, an interim president still has yet to be chosen.

Below is an update sent out today…

TO: Members of the University at Buffalo Community
FROM: Jeremy M. Jacobs, Chairman of the UB Council and Presidential Search Committee

As we begin the New Year, I want to share with you the excellent progress we
are making with the search for UB’s next president. I am pleased to report
that the search committee has received nominations of exceptionally well qualified
candidates from some of the nation’s best universities. We continue to
narrow the pool to those candidates in whom we are especially interested. It
is gratifying to learn of the extraordinary interest in the University at
Buffalo by so many outstanding scholarly leaders. Such interest speaks well
of UB’s reputation and promise as a leading public research university. I
would like to thank the search committee, SUNY representative, UB staff and
our search consultant who have demonstrated professionalism and an
unwavering commitment to finding the next president of this university.
These representatives have worked diligently during our numerous meetings
with a focus on representing the best and highest interests of this
university and this community. I look forward to sharing additional
information with you in the coming weeks as the search process continues.

Zimpher “Delighted”

Here is the press release I received last night at 11:51pm from SUNY spokesperson David Belsky:

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New York City – State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher (pictured here with a University of Cincinnati Bearcat mascot crawling on her shoulder—click on photo for a larger image) today reported to the SUNY Board of Trustees on the search for a new president for the University at Buffalo.

“I am delighted to report that the University at Buffalo Council is moving forward and establishing the search committee for a new president in accordance with SUNY Presidential Search Guidelines,” Chancellor Zimpher told the Board. “I plan to appoint a representative from SUNY System Administration to the search committee, and will visit Buffalo as the committee begins their work to provide them with their charge. This is a critical moment for UB and all of Western New York, and we will ensure that future leadership is selected in an efficient, compliant and effective manner.”

Chancellor Zimpher also noted that she will discuss with the UB Council possible candidates to serve as interim president and, at a special meeting, present her nomination to the Board of Trustees for approval before their November meeting.

This same process for selecting interim presidents at SUNY campuses was recently followed at New Paltz resulting in the appointment of Don Christian and also at Binghamton resulting in the appointment of C. Peter Magrath. In addition, Western New York not long ago experienced the selection of a permanent president at Buffalo State College, resulting in the appointment of Aaron Podolefsky.

Mind you, this statement comes out sixteen days after John Simpson announced he was quitting, and Jeremy Jacobs announced he had named Scott Nostaja interim president—against SUNY Presidential Search Guidelines and NYS Education Law. So it’s not really the “same process for selecting interim presidents at SUNY campuses (that) was recently followed at New Paltz…(etc.).”

In the interim, UB faculty have had time to churn. Scott Nostaja has kind of/sort of withdrawn, for the time being, his nomination as interim President.

Today, through another source, we learned how Zimpher also took the opportunity yesterday to recommend that the members of the SUNY Board of Trustees elect Gary M. Bichler, Wayne S. Blank, Robert E. Denning, and Terrence M. Gilbride to the Board of Trustees of the University at Buffalo Foundation, Inc., for terms of office to expire on June 30, 2013.

Bichler currently serves on the Boards of UBF Corporation (property development), University at Buffalo Foundation (property operation), UBF Faculty-Student Housing Corp. (property operation), and the one that’s so fun to say, FNUB Inc. (property operation).

Blank is on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNYAB.

Denning is the Chair of UB Foundation Services, Inc. (sponsored program administration, other agency activity), and UB Foundation Activities, Inc. (financial management services & activities, gift expenditures). UB Foundation Activities, Inc. is also the arm that pays over a million dollars a year to various characters like John Simpson and Scott Nostaja—above and beyond state salaries. They’re also the group that can easily afford to offer $15 million to buy McCarley Gardens.

Gilbride is a real estate and finance attorney for Hodgson Russ.

Zimpher also recommended that Jeremy M. Jacobs, Jr.; Robert G. Morris; and Keith Stolzenburg be reelected to the Board of Trustees of the University at Buffalo Foundation, Inc., for terms of office to expire on June 30, 2013.

Jacobs is also the Chair of the UB Council, and Chairman and CEO of Delaware North Companies, among other things.

Morris is also on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNYAB. He recently retired as a partner and Chief Investment Officer for Lord Abbett, a privately held money management firm.

Stolzenburg is a partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, LLC.

Click here to read Zimpher’s memo to the SUNY Board of Trustees. And click here to read the agenda for yesterday’s SUNY Board of Trustees meeting. Note that the first order of business was to adjourn into executive session—which is just about the oldest trick in the book for public boards that wish to conduct business in secret.

When asked why the memo and agenda weren’t included in the press release we received from Belsky, and why we had to obtain it from another source, SUNY spokesperson Casey Vattimo said, “We don’t put press releases out on all of the board’s actions. Just the ones we think are of interest to the media. That’s the best explanation I can give you on that.”

It’s almost like they don’t want people to know everything that’s going on within the State University of New York system.

Yet they tell us they need more autonomy.

UB Faculty Senate Lists Qualifications for University President

This morning a meeting of the sub-quorum body of the UB Faculty Senate advised their Executive Committee and Chair Robert Hoeing to draw up a list of qualifications they expect of an interim or permanent university president. These include academic distinction, including achievement in research, teaching, and scholarship.

How to Botch Things Up 101

OK class, today’s lesson is on how to botch things up.

Today the UB Spectrum publishes this interview with outgoing SUNYAB president John Simpson. In it Simpson says, “Some parts of the local media have tried to put words in my mouth, saying that I quit because I didn’t like what the legislature did. To think that New York drove me out because I’m disappointed or angry is simply not the case.”

Gee, I wonder where the media, including UB’s own publications and radio station, got such an idea? Could it have been from Simpson’s prepared statement/retirement speech? “I would be less than forthright not to note that this difficult decision has been made somewhat easier by Albany’s failure to give UB and SUNY the policy tools and stable support needed to fully achieve this university’s great potential.”

That line was quoted in the UB Reporter, and the sentiment echoed in the UB Spectrum two days after his retirement was announced. From there, every media outlet in town, but one, took to repeating the same party line—to the delight of UB 2020 supporters, who could then refocus their anger on Albany and downstate NY.

With yesterday’s announcement that Scott Nostaja is (sort of) withdrawing his name from the running (for now) for the interim president position, it’s interesting to witness the whole awkward episode unfold.

How is it that eleven days after you resign, you find yourself in a position where you have to explain your resignation all over again? And this time, you’re not pointing fingers at Albany, you’re pointing fingers at the media, whose big mistake was only in repeating your own press release?

I mean, why come out now and say you were planning on quitting months ago? Why not say that right from the start? It’s the truth, right? That’s what you’re telling us today, right?

John Simpson: The guy doesn’t know how to quit. Really. He simply doesn’t know how to quit.

Jeremy Jacobs Under Criticism

Yesterday, the Buffalo News ran this piece about Scott Nostaja, who was named interim president of SUNY at Buffalo by UB Council head Jeremy Jacobs last Monday (August 30)—upon the resignation of John Simpson (on the first day of classes for the fall semester). Buffalo’s daily paper joined every other news outlet in town when it reported this important development without asking a single question.

The only problem with that, of course, is that the UB Council doesn’t have the authority to make such a coronation. Artvoice wrote about it the next day. The day after that, the story was picked up by Inside Higher Ed, a national news source for higher education matters. They even had the class to credit Artvoice, which is more than we can say for the News.

The same day Inside Higher Ed published their piece, the editors of the Buffalo News posted this whimpering statement on their Matters of Opinion blog.

While it’s good to see the News hopping on the bandwagon five days late, we’ve been writing about Scott Nostaja well before president Simpson jumped, or was pushed, from the ship.

Now, the level of frustration in the UB community is on the rise, provoked by Nostaja’s lack of qualifications and by what many are beginning to view as a power grab by the business community.

Jacobs is also the multi-billionaire Chairman and CEO of Delaware North Companies, and he owns the National Hockey League Boston Bruins, as well as the TD Garden, where both the Bruins and Boston Celtics play. TD Garden is also a major concert venue. Delaware North sells all the concessions there.

A well-respected businessman, many think Jacobs’s decisions are beyond reproach. But click here to meet someone who doesn’t think so. (NOTE: This is the parental advisory part.)

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