This is not an idle question. Various scholars in SUNY at 60 help us understand why. Tod Ottman points out in "Forging SUNY in New York's Political Cauldron" that
New York's private colleges, represented by the Association of Colleges and Universities of the State of New York (ACUSNY), were the key players in state higher education decision making [in the first half of the 20th C]. Consequently, the interests of the private colleges and the state became so intertwined as to make them indistinguishable. (16)
He notes that the ACUSNY, the State Education Department, and the Board of Regents unsuccessfully opposed Governor Dewey's bills creating SUNY (27-29). Maryellen Keefe adds:
Prior to 1948, the New York State Board of Regents had controlled all higher educational programs, public and private. Before the Board of Regents surrendered control of these colleges, it attained an agreement with Governor Thomas Dewey--no program in the state university system would compete with existing programs in the state's private colleges and universities. (103)
Ottman's point that New York's Normal Schools, tuition-free teacher training institutions, had been controlled by the Board of Regents until they were added into the new SUNY system (17), and Keefe's noting of the no-competition pledge are amplified on by Harold Wechsler, who explains why the Regents board's attempt to seize control of SUNY from the Board of Trustees failed in 1949:
First, the state's private colleges remained neutral after receiving a promise from SUNY officials that the university would wait ten years before adding liberal arts curricula to the teachers colleges. Second, newspapers republished a damaging statement by Regents Chancellor William Wallin at the 1938 New York State Constitutional Convention. "I rise to speak on behalf of discrimination as a liberty which I think ought to be enjoyed by everyone in this State," stated Wallin, then Regents vice chancellor. "In the matters of education," he continued, "it ought to be open to any institution to bar from it, provided it is not a public institution, to bar from entering into it, those it sees fit to forbid entering." Wallin disavowed his remarks, saying he supported and would enforce FEPA [the Fair Educational Practices Act of 1948]. But, critics asked, with how much enthusiasm? And by extension, how would the Regents govern the fledgling state university if the board assumed control? (36-37)
Obviously a lot has changed in New York since the middle of the 20th century. I don't have the time or the capacity to track the changes in the relationship between the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees. But at a time when New York's political leaders are trying to come to an agreement on how much to cut state support for all public education in the state, it's worth adding three more likely faultlines--between the Regents and the Trustees, between private and public higher education, and between K-12 and higher education--to the one between SUNY and UUP that I've been focusing on this year. It's about time that leaders on various sides of these faultlines find some common ground--and soon!
So while I find it encouraging that the former leader of Teachers College, Columbia University, is obliquely addressing New York history and indirectly supporting SUNY, I hope that other leaders of private colleges and universities will start speaking up for public higher education, in New York and across the nation, with the eloquence of Pitzer College president Laura Skandera Trombley.