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SUNY Chancellor Shows Her Mettle, Even as Universities Lose Key Legislative Battle

August 05, 2010

The Chronicle of Higher Education

One year into her tenure as chancellor of the State University of New York, the State Legislature handed Nancy L. Zimpher her first major political defeat, rejecting a package of regulatory changes meant to allow public universities to earn more money outside of state appropriations and operate more efficiently.

The changes Ms. Zimpher championed would have allowed both SUNY and the City University of New York to increase tuition without the Legislature's approval and to charge higher rates to students in some programs and at some campuses. Known as the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, it also would have allowed the university systems to lease property and enter into public-private partnerships without lawmakers' approval and loosened regulations on buying goods and services.

On top of excluding the empowerment act from the budget it passed late Tuesday, the Legislature cut $210-million from the state university budget without approving a tuition increase that could have helped the system offset those cuts. Over the past three budget years, the state system has lost nearly 30 percent of its state appropriations. The city university system took an $84-million cut in the 2011 budget.

While the Legislature's recent actions are a setback for SUNY and the system's chancellor, debate on the empowerment act is far from over. The process also has shown that Ms. Zimpher is a force to be reckoned with, even at the Statehouse, where the political climate has devolved in recent years to a state of near chaos.

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