McHugh, Gardner to receive honorary degrees at Commencement


Update 5/11/10: John McHugh has announced his withdrawal from Commencement, citing objections by some members of the campus community to the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and noting “it is clear my presence at the ceremony might well have a disruptive effect.”

The U.S. Secretary of the Army and a longtime SUNY trustee will receive honorary doctoral degrees from the State University of New York at SUNY Oswego’s dual 149th Commencement ceremonies May 15.

John McHugh, former congressman and state senator in Upstate New York districts encompassing Oswego and now the 21st Secretary of the Army, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 9 a.m. ceremony.

Arnold B. Gardner, an attorney from Buffalo and former member of SUNY’s board of trustees and New York’s Board of Regents, will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 1:30 p.m. ceremony. Sue Shaffer Gardner is expected to accept the degree on behalf of her husband.

“We are profoundly privileged to honor these two distinguished figures,” said SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley. “Both have brought honor to our region for their decades of constructive and selfless dedication in the public sphere.”

Public servant

Over four decades, McHugh has worked in government at the local, state and national levels, starting as an assistant to the Watertown city manager and then joining the staff of state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay. He succeeded Barclay as senator in 1984 and nine years later became New York’s 23rd Congressional District representative.

He served nine terms as congressman before President Barack Obama appointed the Republican McHugh to his current position in the Democratic administration in 2009.

While in Congress, McHugh was a leader in national defense policy and championed issues important to New Yorkers, such as assisting crop and dairy farmers, providing stronger schools, and protecting social programs like Social Security. In 2007 he secured funding to support a Center for Energy Education and Economic Solutions at SUNY Oswego. The center aims to develop a pipeline of skilled workers for the energy industry.

As the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, chair of the panel’s subcommittee on military personnel and Fort Drum’s congressional representative, McHugh visited Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas where American troops were stationed. He also served on the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

As Secretary of the Army, Mr. McHugh is responsible for a budget of more than $200 billion and a workforce of more than 1.1 million active duty, Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers as well as 221,000 civilian employees and 213,000 contracted service personnel.

A native of Watertown, McHugh earned his bachelor’s degree from Utica College of Syracuse University and a master’s degree in public administration from the SUNY University at Albany’s Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

Champion of public education

Gardner is a senior partner in the Buffalo law firm of Kavinoky Cook in the corporate and business law, schools and education, and non-profit sectors. The publication “Best Lawyers in America” has included him many times in the category of corporate law.

His long and distinguished service in education, civil rights and community heritage have earned him numerous awards, both from organizations in his hometown of Buffalo and from statewide and national organizations, including the state NAACP and Bar Association and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Gardner was a member of the Buffalo Board of Education from 1969 to 1974, leading it as president for two years and fighting for the desegregation of the city’s schools. In the mid-1970s, he chaired the New York State Education Department’s Task Force on Teacher Education and Certification as it required that teachers pass a proficiency exam and obtain graduate degrees in the subject areas they teach.

For 19 years, from 1980 to 1999, he was a SUNY trustee, serving as vice chairman of the board from 1991 to 1995 and playing an important role in the “Rethinking SUNY” report to the governor. He followed his SUNY service with two five-year terms on the New York State Board of Regents.

Beyond his commitment to public education, Gardner served as a trustee of the New York State Archives Partnership Trust and as a member of the New York State Holocaust Memorial Commission. He was a member of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A summa cum laude graduate of the SUNY University of Buffalo, Gardner earned his juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School.

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(Posted: Mar 31, 2010)

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