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Joseph and Joan Burke Honored with Distinguished Service Award

Former SUNY Plattsburgh President Joseph Burke and his wife, Joan, a clinical social worker who maintained a practice in marriage counseling while her husband served at the college, will be honored with the 2015 Distinguished Service Award at spring commencement exercises on Saturday, May 16.

The late President George Angell created the Distinguished Service Award in 1966 to be given to a person or persons who have directly or indirectly played a key role in advancing SUNY Plattsburgh. Some of the recipients have included Sen. Ronald Stafford, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and retired Adm. Grace Hopper, U.S. Naval Reserve.

Both Joseph and Joan Burke served the college, the community and the state with distinction since arriving in the North Country in 1973 when Dr. Burke was brought on to serve then-President George Angell as vice president for academic affairs.

Budget Cuts Came with Presidency

He assumed the role of president following Angell’s retirement in 1974, taking the helm of the college during turbulent times, with historic state budget cuts, organized labor on campus, a new faculty senate and the winding down of the Vietnam War.

“Budget cuts came with me,” Burke said. “We had a new faculty senate, a new faculty union and then, of course, George Angell was a tough act to follow. I had to adopt a ‘do more with less’ mantra, and we did.”

Over the course of his 12-year presidency, Burke stabilized the college’s budget and increased enrollment, created what he called “centers of excellence” in the Center for Art, Music and Theater, the Center for Earth and Environmental Science, the Center for Teacher Education and the School of Business and Economics, among others. And in an effort to become more visible to students, Burke moved the Office of the President from the 10th floor of Kehoe to the more student-accessible second floor where he adopted an open-door policy.

Became Provost of SUNY

At the time of his departure from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1986 to assume the post of provost of the State University of New York in Albany, the college was in good stead.  At the same time, the ailing president of the William H. Miner Board of Trustees, James A. FitzPatrick, asked his longtime friend to take his place at the research institute and farm. Burke has been chair of the board ever since.

“It’s been a joy,” he said of Miner. “I’ve seen incredible changes here in terms of research, demonstrations and education, and the great Applied Environmental Science Program, which I started when president at SUNY Plattsburgh, is still one of the most popular programs here.”

Miner Museum a Passion

Being associated with the Miner Institute has given Joan Burke a passion as well. Being chair of the Alice T. Miner Museum Board of Directors has “been quite delightful,” Joan said. The museum, known as “The Alice,” “was there, and it was endowed, but it wasn’t ‘alive.’ I think we’ve been breathing life back into the museum, and it has become a wonderful resource for the entire area. It’s a great teaching place — everything in it is what Alice chose. You can really see an authentic cross section of early Americana.”

Joan also served for many years on Clinton County’s Community Service Board, the board of directors of the county ARC and the Northern New York Center.

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