By Liat Guvenc
On Feb. 10, Gerald Benjamin announced his retirement as director of the Benjamin Center after 50 years of service. Kathleen ‘‘KT’’ Tobin was appointed as the director of the Center and will assume full responsibilities on June 30.
Gerald Benjamin became an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz in 1968. He held many positions at SUNY New Paltz, including chair of the department of political science, presiding officer of the faculty and dean of the college of arts and sciences. In 2008, he was appointed to associate vice president for regional engagement and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.
The Benjamin Center collaborates with local governments, businesses and non-for-profits throughout New York State, studying topics of regional importance in order to better serve these communities.
The Center offers communal and governmental services such as charter revision and economic impact studies, among many.
“We publish research, we create discussions and build policy alternatives in the region and at particular local governments. I think all those things are going to continue as priorities under Tobin,” Benjamin said.
In 1981, Benjamin was elected to the Ulster County Legislature, serving as majority leader and chairman. In 1993, he was appointed by then-governor Mario Cuomo as the research director of the temporary state commission on constitutional revision. In 2004, he was elected to the Ulster County Charter Commission.
Although it is not a requirement, many of the staff at the Benjamin Center have worked in local government in the Hudson Valley.
“When a government approaches us they know that we have practical experience, and academic credentials and research knowledge so it enhances our attractiveness of bringing us in to help them,” Benjamin said.
Tobin, the now-director of the center, was elected to the New Paltz Central High School board in 2009. In 2017, she was elected for the Village of New Paltz board of Trustees and chosen to be the deputy mayor by Mayor Tim Rogers.
“I want to examine it [politics] not just from afar. I want to know and live what it’s like [to be a woman in politics] so that my work is informed by that experience,” Tobin said. She wrote her doctorate degree dissertation about women elected to local government in the Mid-Hudson. “I think that adds tremendous value to perspective and understanding of how things work.”
According to Benjamin, politics in Ulster County were predominantly Republican until the last 20 years. Democratic women have been enrolling in politics in recent years, bringing more competition between political parties.
“All of the spaces, the business world, the nonprofit world, the government world, the academic world is in need of more women in positions of power because we bring to the table different perspectives that might not otherwise be attended to,” Tobin said. “And I feel this way, both about women’s representation and the representation of color, who are underrepresented in the public sphere, whether it’s politics, business, [or] the nonprofit world.”
In the fall semester, Tobin will launch a program called the Benjamin Center Scholars, which will recruit faculty to work on regional research. Applying to become a Benjamin Scholar, which would release them from their courses and give them a student assistant while receiving additional research support from the Benjamin Center.
This program is designed for faculty already doing research who need help with outreach, dissemination and public policy.
Tobin will also be releasing a report by the end of March about the affordability of Ulster County. This report will reach out to communities struggling with affordability and suggest public policy to gather ideals to tackle poverty.
“I feel like I have the perfect job for me and I’m super excited about taking my career to the next level. I feel incredibly honored to be passing this baton… I love the campus and I love the community so I couldn’t be happier about this opportunity,” Tobin said.