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On a snowy February morning, D. Bruce Johnstone, former president of Buffalo State and SUNY chancellor, sat in the living room of the waterfront condominium he shares with his wife, Gail. The light-infused room is filled with stunning drawings and paintings created by Buffalo State visual arts professors both living and deceased.
Art holds a special place for both of the Johnstones, as demonstrated in Johnstone’s contributions to Buffalo State during his presidency from 1979 to 1988. Due to the college’s strength in the visual arts and its location in the city’s cultural corridor, Johnstone believed the graduate art conservation program, then located at SUNY Oneonta in Cooperstown, New York, belonged at Buffalo State. As one of his prouder achievements as president, Johnstone led the program’s relocation to Buffalo.
“First, I very strategically set out to woo the faculty,” he said with a smile. “I brought the faculty here on a bus to see the Buffalo art community, the Albright-Knox and other art galleries.”
The art conservation program is now considered among the college’s gems, and its graduates have landed jobs with some of the most prominent art museums in the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and all the Smithsonian museums.
In 2014, the Johnstones contributed to the program in another way. They made a generous contribution to the fellowship fund for art conservation students
“I have a special affection for the art conservation program. Art conservators are not paid high salaries,” Johnstone explained. “They can’t carry large debts.”
Additionally, the Johnstones made a separate endowed gift to Buffalo State’s School of Education. The Bruce and Gail Johnstone Fund for Urban Education is designed for professional development and to cover the cost of visiting lecturers and speakers.
“Gail and I have a long tradition of supporting public education,” he said. “And I had the feeling that with the crisis in the Buffalo schools, Buffalo State was not being turned to sufficiently for answers.”
Through the gift, the couple wants to help faculty and students attend conferences and also to bring in experts to speak on campus.
Susanne Bair, vice president for institutional advancement, said Johnstone’s long-term contributions to Buffalo State are coming full circle with gifts to two of the college’s flagship academic programs.
“We are extremely grateful to the Johnstones for their active support of Buffalo State throughout the years and now for these two generous gifts,” Bair said. “Both will make a significant impact on our students who are our country’s future teachers and art conservators.”
While serving as president at Buffalo State, Johnstone transformed the campus in myriad ways. He fully integrated the liberal arts with the vocational and professional programs, introduced the general education core, and expanded the academic minors programs. To attract more students, Johnstone increased recruitment downstate and introduced night courses, which provided more possibilities for the non-traditional student.
Besides graciously serving as Buffalo State’s “first lady,” Gail Johnstone also held the roles of planning director for the City of Buffalo and vice president for planning at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. She retired as executive director of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
Johnstone left Buffalo State to become the SUNY chancellor from 1988 to 1996. From 1995 through 2006, he taught courses in higher education finance, governance, curriculum and international comparative higher education at the University at Buffalo, where he was named SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Higher and Comparative Education Emeritus.
In January 2014, the SUNY Board of Trustees appointed Johnstone as chancellor emeritus, a title conferred to only three other past chancellors in SUNY history.
His strategic plan, SUNY 2000: A Vision for the New Century, called for a university system that addressed society’s greatest needs, such as equality, justice, prosperity and refocused the role of university research to prepare for the new millennium.
Soon after the announcement, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said, “Chancellor Johnstone’s keen focus on the power of partnerships was ahead of the time, and his strengthening of SUNY’s shared governance structure built the foundation for the close partnerships we have with our students and faculty today.”
Although he has officially retired, Johnstone shows no signs of slowing down. He regularly travels to countries across the globe in his role as director of the International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility project in which academics research the costs of higher education and how that education is being funded.
Early on in his career, Johnstone became an expert on the financing of college education and he has written hundreds of papers, book chapters, and books on the subject. He continues to share his expertise at international conferences and is a World Bank consultant on higher education reform projects in Morocco, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, and the Organization of East Caribbean States.
Pictured (left to right): SUNY Chancellor Emeritus D. Bruce Johnstone, Buffalo State President Katherine S. Conway-Turner, Gail Johnstone
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