Aaron M. Podolefsky, who resigned as president of SUNY Buffalo State last month amid his battle with prostate cancer, died Thursday at his Buffalo home surrounded by family. He was 67.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Thursday afternoon, but a campus memorial service is scheduled for the fall.
Howard Cohen, chancellor emeritus at Purdue University Calumet in Indiana, took over as interim president this month while the college searches for a permanent replacement for Podolefsky.
“Dr. Podolefsky was the embodiment of the welcoming, engaging and collegial campus culture that defines Buffalo State,” Buffalo State Council Chairman Howard Zemsky said in a prepared statement. “His wit, wisdom and kindness will be immensely missed.”
Podolefsky’s tenure as the eighth president of Buffalo State began on July 1, 2010, when he succeeded longtime President Muriel A. Howard.
The self-described “listener” and “consensus builder” quickly ingratiated himself with a Buffalo State campus that found the new leader to be unassuming and down to earth.
“In his too brief time as our president, Aaron made numerous significant contributions,” said Howard Reid, chairman of Buffalo State’s College Senate. “However, for his many friends at the college, what will be most sorely missed will be his more personal qualities, which everyone will agree included openness, support, kindness and his upbeat attitude.”
Podolefsky – who began his college career as an anthropology professor – brought to Buffalo State a renewed commitment to the arts and student life. He introduced a new institutional crest, as well as the college’s first-ever comprehensive fundraiser.
He oversaw millions in new campus construction that had begun prior to his arrival from the University of Central Missouri, where he was president for five years.
“No matter how much we have grown in enrollment, expanded in mission, created new programs and transformed how we teach and research, our core purpose remains,” Podolefsky said in his inaugural remarks. “Buffalo State continues to be ‘the people’s university’ to serve the public and to act in its best interest.”
But in the fall of 2011, Podolefsky told the campus of his cancer diagnosis and underwent treatment while still serving as president.
Earlier this year, Podolefsky started a clinical trial at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which prevented him from attending Buffalo State’s May 18 commencement.
By June, the demands of his treatment forced him to go on sick leave.
Last month, he announced his resignation effective July 31.
A native of New York City, Podolefsky earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from San Jose State University, then worked as a middle-school math teacher on Long Island.
He started taking night courses at Stony Brook University to get his master’s degree, when a professor suggested he had a knack for anthropology. He went on to earn two master’s degrees and his doctorate in anthropology from Stony Brook, and taught at West Virginia and Western Kentucky universities.
He was the chief academic officer at the University of Northern Iowa before serving for five years as president at Central Missouri.
Podolefsky is survived by his wife, Ronnie; and two sons, Noah and Isaac.