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frommore than
42 percent to less
than 33 percent.
“That’s not a smart
economic strategy,
and it’s not good
stewardship of two
of the country’s great
systems of public
higher education,”
said David Kallick, a
senior fellow at the
Then again,
SUNY, for its part,
had no official
stewardship at all for two years.That’s how long it went without
a chancellor before the appointment of Nancy Zimpher, former
president of the University of Cincinnati, who took office on
June 1. And it shows the importance to public higher education
of something else: leadership. During its time without it, SUNY
suffered $200million in state cuts.The chaos was exacerbated
by the resignation of Governor Eliot Spitzer, a higher education
booster, after revelations that he had patronized prostitutes.
Spitzer was not around to implement the
recommendations of a commission on higher education he
had named, the first inNewYork inmore than 30 years, that
called for 2,000 new full-time faculty and billions of dollars
in new investment. He wasn’t there to follow through on his
plan to establish a $4 billion endowment fund for CUNY and
SUNY, either. (He had held a conference call with university
administrators about the proposal just a day before the scandal
Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, by contrast, has been
too busy reacting to the budget crisis to advocate for higher
education, or much of anything else.
Zimpher started her job with a tour of all 64 SUNY
campuses—7,507miles over 95 days, by land, sea and
air—dropping hints here and there about her plans. She said
she favored offering four-year degrees at SUNY’s community
colleges, for instance. But hired in part on the basis of
her reputation for strengthening marquee research at the
University of Cincinnati, she also said the more immediate
priority was to teach and to conduct the kind of research that
could translate into commerce. “Academics see themselves
as citizens of the world,” Zimpher told one campus audience.
“They seek national and international recognition for their
work. But the greatest pathway to national and international
recognition is to serve your state.”
It was an important declaration. Like many public
universities around the country, several SUNY schools are
anxious to expand the research they conduct, even at a time
when there is almost nomoney to do it, and when other states
have added programs and entire campuses they now find they
can not afford.The most ambitious is the University of Buffalo
(wary of the SUNY brand after years of underfunding for
the system, it, like Binghamton and other campuses, prefers
to drop the “SUNY” from its name), which has proposed
adding 10,000 students and 2,300 staff in a quest to become a
nationally ranked research university by 2020. A bill introduced
by its legislative delegation would have given Buffalo the right
to pay for this by raising its tuition independently of the other
SUNY campuses, which all now charge the same amount.The
idea was met immediately with demands from the SUNY
universities in Albany, Binghamton and Stony Brook that they
be allowed to do so too.
During her visit to Stony Brook, Zimpher said that was
okay by her.The research universities, after all, now have to
get by on the same tuition as smaller teaching campuses. But
in an interview back at her desk in Albany, the chancellor
cautioned that the desire to do research “sometimes blurs the
recognition that public universities were created to serve their
communities. We have to reexamine the traditional definition
of our mission,” she said. “The investment in high-end research
provides the jobs for which we are producing graduates. It’s not
an either-or.”The best way for SUNY to win global recognition,
Zimpher said, is by helping NewYork rebound from the
That is the very practical message NewYork’s higher
education interest groups hope will bring back their support.
Highly educated and well supplied with universities of all
types, NewYork is nonetheless a distant 39th among the states
in spending on public higher education. “I don’t knowwhy
there isn’t more voice to
the constituents of higher
education,” Zimpher
said. “I know it’s there.
How could you have
half a million students
(at SUNY), 2.4million
alumni and all their
families, and not have
advocacy for public higher
education?”The practical
answer, she acknowledged,
is competition for state
funding with such
mandated services as
health and prisons.
But universities create
jobs and workers that can
help NewYork solve the
very budget problems that
got it into this mess. “This
is a time to invest, oddly
enough,” Zimpher said.
“The only way we’re going
to grow our way out of this
situation is to invest in higher education. No other business
in the world would starve the growth sector in the process of
feeding these mandates.”
On this point, the faculty union brass agrees.The union’s
newmotto: “SUNY is the Solution.” It is pushing members to
drag business and political leaders onto their campuses and
show them, close up, what they are doing. “We can no longer
live in the world we used to. We need to do a better job of
educating people,” Smith said in his office outside Albany. In
the parking lot, a handwritten sign warned of hornets’ nests
New York’s community
college tuition rose
again this year to help
fill ever-worsening
multibillion-dollar state
revenue shortfalls that
have resulted from the
deep recession.
“For some students, a few hundred dollars is the
difference between making it and not making it,” says
Deborah Glick, a graduate of CUNY’s Queens College
who chairs the New York General Assembly’s higher
education committee.
Robert Hooman, Black Star, for CrossTalk