Thursday, March 04, 2010

What's Going On? An Open Letter to Bill Parment, Cathy Young, David Townsend, Joseph Griffo, Deborah Glick, Toby Stavisky, Sheldon Silver, and Malcolm Smith

Dear New York State Legislators,

I was born in New Hartford, grew up and went to college in Clinton, and now work in Fredonia and live in Dunkirk. In fact, I've resided in Oneida and Chautauqua Counties for about three-quarters of my lifetime. Plus, I've spent about two-thirds of my academic life in New York higher education. I'm a graduate of Hamilton College and an English professor at SUNY Fredonia, where I'm also chair of the University Senate.

I'm not writing to you today as Senate chair, although if I have my way you'll be hearing from me on Senate letterhead later this month. For now, this is simply a letter from a concerned citizen and taxpayer of the state of New York. I've chosen this day to address you because March 4 is a day of action across California and the nation in defense of public education, which has been endorsed by national organizations like the American Association of University Professors. I'm writing you today because I'm concerned that California's 2010 will be New York's 2011. And I'm writing you today to ask you a simple question: "what's going on?"

With that question and its invocation of Marvin Gaye's classic, I'm inviting you to my blog, Citizen of Somewhere Else (, where a live performance on youtube can serve as background music while you think about how to respond to my follow-up questions.

I hope the song and video remind you of the 1960s and 1970s.  I urge you to consider that we may well be facing choices in the 2010s that are just as momentous and urgent as the state and country faced back then.  So I ask again, "what's going on?"

  • What's going on in the legislature with regard to the SUNY budget? Is there any way of restoring the Governor's cuts, which would set SUNY's operating budget back to funding levels not seen in the past 20 years and would bring about a 25% decline in such funding over the past two years? Looking beyond this year's budget, what level of state funding, in your view, is necessary for SUNY to continue achieving its mission? At what point are critical operations threatened? At what point does the legislature draw the line and take a stand?
  • What's going on in the legislature with respect to long-range planning for public higher education in New York? Do you believe downsizing SUNY (via layoffs, retrenchments, and restructurings on individual campuses) is the best way to serve New Yorkers? Are you trying to force a system reconfiguration (closing, selling, merging of campuses in SUNY)? Is your eventual goal to dismantle and privatize the SUNY system? Or do you see a future for public higher education in New York in the 21st century? What is your vision? And what do you think of my call to grow SUNY (
  • What's going on in the legislature with regard to the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act? What is your own position on the bill? Do you support it without reservation? Oppose it wholeheartedly? See it as flawed but fixable? What are the prospects for the emergence of a principled compromise ( that would allow it to become law?
Please understand that I'm not asking for a form letter in response to these questions; instead of wasting that piece of paper, why don't you visit the comments section at Citizen of Somewhere Else, where this open letter is posted, and engage me in an online conversation?  Or better yet, why don't we talk face-to-face?  Would you care to speak at SUNY Fredonia later this month?  Many of us on campus can make time for a public meeting and some of us can be free for private conversations.  We have a lot of questions.  And we'd like to start hearing some answers from our representatives in the legislature.


Bruce N. Simon

[Update 1 (3/5/10, 9:54 am): Here's more on the March 4 protests from Marc Bousquet.]

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