Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SUNY's "Fortunately, Unfortunately" Strategy: Turning Up the Heat on NY's Political Establishment

With the Passover-Easter recess over in Albany, New York's political leaders have been greeted by a renewed pushback from SUNY. Let's call it the "Fortunately, Unfortunately" strategy.

Fortunately, SUNY is launching its new strategic plan over the next two weeks across New York State. [Update (10:44 am): here's The Power of SUNY page and a link to the strategic plan (of the same title) itself.]

Unfortunately, Stony Brook University "leaked" and then announced and explained their plans to virtually shut down their Southampton campus, which they had recently purchased from Long Island University. Key sound bites from President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., include the following:

"I would say that we did fundamentally believe that the financial model didn't work essentially as outlined, and that to try and run a very small campus--essentially a very small liberal arts campus--on a $5,000 a year tuition, is very difficult."

"You can do the math and figure out without significant state allocation and support, this campus loses money."

It remains to be seen whether students, UUP, and local legislators will direct their anger at the Stony Brook administration alone, or whether Sheldon Silver and other State Assembly leaders will become the target of their ire.

Fortunately, SUNY is celebrating its most exceptional students by announcing the recipients of the 2010 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence last week and holding a poster session today in the Legislative Office Building showcasing top undergraduate research and creative work.

Unfortunately, the University at Albany has announced their plans to prepare for a "substantially lower resource base over the next two years," according to an email that President George Philip sent to the campus last week, which made its way to the Times Union's Capitol Confidential blog. The other key line from it is even more specific:

[W]ithout long-overdue flexibility/autonomy and critically important funding restorations, I remain deeply troubled and concerned about the University's ability to maintain the size of our faculty and staff, the breadth of our academic programs, and student enrollment.

Last week at SUNY Fredonia, President Hefner and I were interviewed on "High Noon Friday" on the Fredonia radio station, right after Student Assembly leader Kevin Wysocki's interview, on the SUNY budget and the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. Yesterday, the Fredonia University Senate overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution that the Executive Committee of the state-wide University Faculty Senate passed at the end of March, which lays out their qualified support for the PHEE&IA. (While they didn't go as far as I wanted them to in clarifying what SUNY needs from NY, they did a good job of addressing the legitimate objections that have been raised by UUP and others by calling for further revisions of SUNY's tuition and asset management policy drafts.) This Friday, SUNY Fredonia will be holding a press conference to do what we can to continue turning up the heat on NY's political leaders. And I'm hoping that the governance team we're bringing to the state-wide plenary in New Paltz at the end of next week can help the UFS put further pressure on SUNY and UUP to finally present a united front to NY's political establishment.

While we at Fredonia are hoping for the best and fighting for any good to come from New York's budget process, we're preparing for all likely eventualities, from dire to disastrous to catastrophic. I've been consulting with President Hefner and members of the University Senate Executive Committee and Planning and Budget Advisory Committee over the last several weeks on putting together a Budget Priorities Subcommittee of PBAC, a small working group to be made up of faculty and administrative leaders, whom I will charge with deciding on a process and criteria for making recommendations on how Fredonia should deal with a range of budgetary scenarios and presenting their recommendations to the PBAC after they have concluded their data collection, analysis, and deliberations. A loose model for the BPS's work will be the kind of projections that UC's state-wide University Committee on Planning and Budget produced in the middle of the last decade, but with specific suggestions for difficult decision-making at a public regional university in NY rather than a survey of general paths CA's research universities might take.

More on all these matters as they unfold....

[Update 1 (10:59 am): I give the New York Times's first pass at summarizing the plan a B-.]

[Update 2 (1:39 pm): Frank Mauro and Ron Deutsch suggest that alternatives to continuing to cut SUNY--and ways to fund them--both exist and will be better for the state in the near and long term.]

[Update 3 (5:01 pm): The Legislative Gazette included the first comprehensive overview of the plan that I've seen.]

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