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SUNY medical school leader reportedly loses bid for PSU job because of inquiry

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
Michelle Gabel/The Post-Standard
SUNY Upstate president Dr. David R. Smith, shown in front of the East Tower, the University Hospital's new $147 million addition.

The president of a medical school in New York who was considered to become president of Penn State University is on leave while State University of New York officials investigate reports that he padded his pay, the Albany Times Union newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Penn State's trustees were close to announcing that Upstate Medical University President David R. Smith would be hired when they learned he had arranged to receive extra pay through outside companies linked to his school in Syracuse, the Times Union reported.

Smith was placed on leave by the State University of New York. Upstate Medical University is one of SUNY's 64 campuses.

“Due to an ongoing review of compensation issues at Upstate Medical University, as well as recent health issues, Upstate President David Smith will be on leave from his duties at this time,” said a statement by SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

“The review is an ongoing personnel matter, and the chancellor and Board of Trustees will await any findings from that review before taking any other actions as may be appropriate,” Zimpher said.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

A Penn State spokeswoman refused to confirm or deny that Smith was the top candidate for university president.

“Because of the need to protect and preserve the current careers of highly desirable candidates, we will not make public any names of potential candidates, nor will we confirm that any given name has been considered in this process,” spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said.

“It has been shown repeatedly that a confidential search process for an executive position attracts the best and most qualified and extraordinary candidates. It is a protective measure for the candidates themselves and allows the university to attract the highest caliber of candidates to lead one of America's premier universities,” she said.

Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano, an outspoken critic of the board's selection process, said he never heard Smith's name.

“But if this story is true, then the board made the right decision about delaying confirmation of the candidate. If this is true, this is another reason why the full board should be involved in discussions with the finalists,” Lubrano said.

Penn State trustees scheduled a public meeting last week, ostensibly to vote on the Presidential Selection Council's recommendation for a president to replace Rodney Erickson, who intends to retire in June.

When some board members complained about being excluded from the selection process, the board canceled the public meeting and instead met privately on Friday morning in State College.

In announcing the cancellation, a board spokesman said the public meeting “to discuss a personnel decision has been delayed indefinitely to allow for further consideration on the matter.”

Trustees declined to comment on issues they discussed.

The Times Union said Penn State's announcement naming Smith as president was canceled because questions arose about Smith's compensation.

According to the Times Union, a search firm working for Penn State, which also works for SUNY, found out about extra pay Smith received from Medbest Medical Management Inc. and Pediatrics Service Group LLP.

The newspaper said Zimpher sent Smith a letter on Friday saying that, according to a recent review, he accepted $349,295 from outside sources without her approval.

“It appears likely that substantial repayments from you likely will be due,” according to Zimpher's letter, the Times Union reported. The letter warned Smith that he could face further “remedial directives” and “disciplinary action.”

SUNY pays Smith $625,000 plus a $60,000 housing stipend and $250,000 from the SUNY Research Foundation, the newspaper reported.

Smith, a pediatrician and native of Ohio, became president of Upstate Medical University in 2006. He was chancellor of Texas Tech University from 2001 to 2006.

Debra Erdley and Michael Hasch are Trib Total Media staff writers.

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