SUNY Board of Trustees Appoints Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. As Chancellor Emeritus

May 10, 2012

Albany – The State University of New York Board of Trustees today appointed Clifton R. Wharton Jr. as chancellor emeritus, a title conferred to a past-chancellor of the system for just the third time in SUNY history.

Clifton Wharton served as SUNY chancellor from 1978 to 1987. A highlight of his tenure was the implementation of an ambitious long-term strategic planning effort known as The Challenge and the Choice, which refocused SUNY’s mission to provide top quality teaching and learning to students and to be an economic driver for the State of New York. He was also the system’s first African American chancellor.

“Throughout SUNY history, there have been great leaders who have made their mark in each of the three tenets of our mission: to learn, to search, to serve; and Clifton Wharton is one of our most prominent,” said Board Chairman H. Carl McCall. “SUNY is fortunate that at a critical point in the system’s development, a man who is known as a national and global visionary served as our Chancellor. Today’s appointment is befitting of his service and much deserved.”

“Clifton Wharton’s appointment as Chancellor Emeritus is a fitting tribute to a man who pioneered SUNY during one its most tumultuous and challenging times,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “He leaves a lasting legacy within SUNY’s history and I commend the Board for recognizing his exemplary service with this appointment.”

About Clifton R. Wharton Jr.
Clifton Reginald Wharton Jr. has led an extraordinary life. Beyond his own academic accomplishments (entering Harvard at 16, Masters in international affairs from SAIS and a Master of Arts and PhD in economics from the University of Chicago), he built his career around a commitment to public service. 

His work in international economic development, specifically in Latin America and Asia, was unique in that Dr. Wharton didn’t use a theoretical approach with these communities. Instead, he gave them the tools and the training they needed to become self-sufficient in agriculture and nutrition thus raising their standard of living.

Dr. Wharton’s pioneering global efforts made him a sought-after advisor in the fields of both business and government. And while his achievements in various corporate positions, most notably as the first African-American CEO of a major U.S. corporation at TIAA-CREF, are vast, it is his work in the field of higher education administration that we honor above all.

Clifton Wharton began his official foray into higher education by becoming the first African American president of Michigan State University in 1970. His calm and diplomatic demeanor, coupled with his first-hand experience in foreign affairs with Latin America and Southeast Asia served his constituency well, even through such traumatic events as the Kent State protest.

As president, he advocated for universal access to higher education, led the university to growth, increased student involvement on advisory councils, and developed a new urban affairs college.

In 1978, Dr. Wharton’s became chancellor of one of the largest systems of public higher education in the world and immediately began to put his mark on the State University of New York. 

His time at SUNY is remembered for many insightful and thorough reviews of the burgeoning and bureaucratic system that earned him the title of “one of the top five most influential leaders in higher education,” according to a national survey of the time. Throughout his tenure, he remained dedicated to the principle that the doors of academia should be open to the masses. 

He appointed an independent commission that resulted in streamlined processes and enhanced national reputation for SUNY that to this day remains his legacy. 

Above all else, Dr. Clifton Wharton and his wife Dolores, who has had her own extremely distinguished career, have always committed themselves to the people that made these organizations successful. The unwavering support and the sense of family they instilled in SUNY employees, students and the community has earned them the utmost respect and admiration.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, with 64 college and university campuses located within 30 miles of every home, school, and business in the state. As of Fall 2018, more than 424,000 students were enrolled in a degree program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY served 1.4 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs in the 2017-18 academic year. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Its students and faculty make significant contributions to research and discovery, contributing to a $1.6 billion research portfolio. There are 3 million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit

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