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Editorial: Legislature Should Let SUNY Power Up

May 17, 2010


May 15, 2010

Now that the State University of New York has an ambitious strategic plan - six big, blue-sky ideas for its future - all it needs is the tuition and governing flexibility to bring the plan to life. In New York, of course, that's the hard part.

The new SUNY chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, uses this analogy: The strategic plan is the road map. The flexibility legislation proposed by Gov. David A. Paterson is the driver's license. To carry her analogy one step further: SUNY faces a huge obstacle to getting its license: the cold-eyed, tough-marking driving-test examiner known as the State Legislature.

On Tuesday, Zimpher joined the governor for a press conference-rally for the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which he introduced as part of his 2010-2011 budget. The budget is still in deficit limbo. So the legislation - a bigger, bolder version of flexibility legislation that SUNY has long sought - is stuck in the swimming-in-molasses inertia of Albany.

The proposed law would give SUNY greater control over tuition, purchasing, land leases and other dimensions of governance. With some caveats, it has the support of the SUNY Student Assembly and the University Faculty Senate. In its budget resolution, the State Senate adopted some elements of it. But the Assembly fears that its loss of control over tuition could make it tougher for students to afford SUNY. So it's balking.

At a time when parents and high school students are making college choices, and we need some clarity about future tuition policy, we're not getting it. But we do have a plan that gives us an idea of what SUNY can be, once it gets past the budget mess.

The Power of SUNY

From the moment Zimpher arrived last June, she made it clear that she wanted SUNY to think broadly and boldly about its future. In a burst of frenetic activity, she visited all 64 campuses and held 10 gatherings around the state, including here on Long Island, to talk about the plan.

Its title is "The Power of SUNY," a phrase echoed like a football cheer at the Long Island launch of the plan in April at the College at Old Westbury.

Given the diversity of programs and resources in the system, the power theme has many dimensions. But Zimpher has placed an especially heavy emphasis on SUNY as an economic development engine - not a bad idea in these tough times. The goal is "to revitalize New York's economy and enhance the quality of life for all its citizens."

Thinking big

To get there, the plan offers six big ideas, each with three specific initiatives. The ideas include encouraging entrepreneurship; closing gaps in the educational system to create a seamless education pipeline; more fully integrating the system's health care assets for better public health; making SUNY a key player in an energy-smart New York; becoming a more "enriching presence" in our communities; and improving global presence and competitiveness.

There's a lot to like in the details. One appealing proposal is a SUNY Urban-Rural Teacher Corps, to give teachers the kind of clinical training that medical professionals get. Another is a SUNY Wellness Network, to use the system's health care expertise to set statewide health goals.

But we'll be able to judge the plan more fairly in the fall, when SUNY attaches to these ideas some metrics to help measure its progress every year. The only metric in the plan now is a promise to cut energy use by 30 percent over the next decade.

Is this lean period, when SUNY's state funding keeps getting cut, the right time for such an ambitious plan? Yes. First, it can bring economic development to revive the state. And if SUNY can't think big when it finally has a forceful new chancellor, after almost two years of temporary leadership and drift, when can it?

For now, SUNY can begin to accomplish some of what's in the plan by better coordinating what it already has, by setting priorities and moving resources around. But it will also need help from the state.

In the past, the legislature has agreed to tuition increases, but it's all a game, in which the state grabs the increased revenue for other uses. Now SUNY wants to set its tuition rates - and keep the money. Legislators loathe giving up their control.

But the legislators - and the governor - have subjected SUNY to the budget machete in recent years. Now, lawmakers can tinker with the proposed act - by imposing caps on some tuition levels, for example - and SUNY has already given ground on the potential size of annual increases. But the legislature should pass it and let SUNY see what it can do with real independence, on tuition and on flexibility to take advantage of fast-breaking opportunities for SUNY entrepreneurship. If it doesn't work, the legislature can curtail the independence later.

What we really need is to get people excited about the potential that SUNY offers. The plan is a first step. But unless the legislature lets SUNY soar, all that potential will remain tragically untapped.

Newsday Editorial

Closer to Help for SUNY

May 13, 2010

Star Gazette Editorial

While the New York Legislature has come to a standstill on a new budget, there's been a glimmer of hope for the State University of New York's future. A bill introduced in January to give SUNY campuses more autonomy over how much they charge for tuition and what they do with the money has inched its way toward approval.

Even more significant has been Gov. David Paterson's backing of the move, which SUNY officials, including Board of Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden of Elmira, have sought as a way to reinvest more money in SUNY and make it more competitive with other states' university systems. In addition to allowing campuses more control over tuition rates and revenue, the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act gives campuses more authority to enter into contracts and sign property leases without pre-approval of the state comptroller's and attorney general's offices.

Full Story

Governor Seeks Legislature's Support of SUNY 'Empowerment' Bill

May 12, 2010

Gannett News Service

ALBANY -- Gov. David Paterson's proposal to allow the State University of New York to set tuition without legislative approval has support from SUNY students, administration and staff, but backing from the Assembly and Senate is less certain.

Paterson held a news conference/rally Tuesday for the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, during which he called on lawmakers to enact his legislation. SUNY and the City University of New York should have the authority to act more independently, not as "adjunct agencies of New York state's government," he said.

Under the governor's proposal, tuition would be removed from the annual state budget process. SUNY and CUNY could increase tuition each year by up to 2.5 times the five-year average of the Higher Education Price Index. Trustees could charge different tuition rates for programs and campuses within their systems.

The governor said SUNY and CUNY are overburdened by state regulations, and his legislation would eliminate what are considered unnecessary regulations on contracting, procurement, land use and other areas. The state would maintain appropriate oversight.

"SUNY and CUNY are in many ways obfuscated and unable to provide the services that they can, and what this whole Empowerment and Innovation Act is about is liberating them, giving them the opportunity to provide the resources to their students so that we can become a part of global industries and a new global economy," Paterson said Tuesday.

Full Story

Governor Paterson Calls for the Passage of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act

May 11, 2010

News from New York State Office of the Governor

ALBANY, NY (05/11/2010)(readMedia)-- Governor David A. Paterson today was joined by Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, students and university, business and labor leaders in urging the Legislature to pass the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. The Act includes the most significant reforms to the State's public higher education system in a generation and was introduced as part of the Governor's 2010-11 Executive Budget.

"The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act will provide SUNY and CUNY with the freedom and flexibility they need to prepare students for the future, create jobs and promote economic development," Governor Paterson said. "My proposal would help SUNY and CUNY reach their full potential and drive development both on campus and off. This reform is supported by students, the faculty, labor and university administrators alike, and we urge the legislature to take swift action to pass this important bill."

The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act achieves reform in three key areas of public higher education governance: tuition, public-private partnerships and procurement. Working from a template established by the Commission on Higher Education, the proposal takes tuition-setting out of the State budget process and allows for the SUNY and CUNY systems to implement rational and differential tuition policies, making tuition more equitable and predictable for students and families; allows for campuses to more efficiently enter into public-private partnerships to pursue collaborative research and development partnerships that will drive New York's future prosperity; and eliminates burdensome and unnecessary regulation and micromanagement and streamlines the procurement process.

Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravich said: "After more than four decades in public service, I firmly believe that higher education has a unique power to drive statewide prosperity and help us grow out of recession. The Empowerment and Innovation Act is the result of several years of recognition by higher education experts that SUNY and CUNY currently operate in a system that limits the positive impact they have on our students lives and on the economic health of our State. We cannot afford to leave this opportunity on the table."

The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act has received broad-based support from the SUNY Student Assembly and university administrators as well as the SUNY Faculty Senate, business leaders and organized labor.

"The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act builds upon the tradition of access to excellence that our institutions of public higher education have come to embody," the Governor added. "It is critical that the Legislature enact this transformative reform."

Full Story

Pass University Reforms

May 03, 2010

Buffalo News Editorial

Count on Assemblyman Mark Schroeder to tell it straight. The Buffalo Democrat on Wednesday laid into Speaker Sheldon Silver for blocking a bill that would let the University at Buffalo and other SUNY campuses become the economic powerhouses that upstate needs them to be.

Not only is Silver hindering the region's development through his obstructionism, but Schroeder says the speaker is also breaking a promise to support the bill if SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher endorsed it. Zimpher has, emphatically, yet the bill remains bottled up in the Assembly. Silver could move it along, but he won't. What is this man trying to do?

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