Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Deborah, Herman, and Sheldon....

Here's the text of the SUNY Fredonia University Senate resolution that's about to go out to everyone with responsibility for the New York State budget.

Be it resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia supports four key provisions contained in the recently passed New York State Senate Budget Resolution:

1. Allow the Board of Trustees to set undergraduate tuition within the confines of an annual "cap." Further, the Senate recommends that a fixed "cap" in the range of 8% to 10% be utilized in lieu of a HEPI-generated limit to provide for better predictability and to avoid excessive fluctuations.
2. Eliminate the "tax on tuition" by returning to the campuses 100% of the tuition they collect.
3. Move SUNY funds from State Assistance to Local Assistance, thereby placing SUNY into the same budgetary category as CUNY and community colleges.
4. Support the elimination of unnecessary duplication in the pre-approval process for construction and "goods" contracts.

Be it further resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia urges the State of New York to make a commitment to “maintenance of effort” in the provision of state dollars, and to avoid using tuition increases as a mechanism for moving away from covering mandatory costs, especially during normal budget years.

Be it further resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia urges the State of New York and the State University of New York to make a commitment to mitigating the effects of any tuition increases on financially vulnerable students at SUNY.

And, Be it finally resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia directs the Senate Chair to forward this resolution to the Governor and to all members of the New York State Legislature.

The ball's in your court now. If you won't support the following minimal measures that the SUNY Fredonia University Senate, United University Professions chapter, and administration all agree we need right now to keep SUNY afloat--and which mirror our Student Assembly's previous resolution on every matter except the size of the cap on tuition increases and the locus of control for tuition policy--then it will be clear for all to see that you three are to blame for trying to sink SUNY.

[Update 1 (4:49 pm): The Executive Committee of the state-wide SUNY University Faculty Senate has also come out with their own letter and resolution. You can find them--and track everything that's been going on since January 2010--by going to the Fredonia University Senate ANGEL group and following the Content --> Campus Initiatives --> 2009-2010 --> SUNY Flexibility/Budget path.]

Monday, March 29, 2010

Senate Update: We Did It!

With explanatory comments from UUP chapter President Bridget Russell, Student Assembly President Kevin Wysocki, and Fredonia President Dennis Hefner, with the addition of a new "resolved" calling on NY state and SUNY to mitigate the effects of any tuition increases on financially vulnerable students at SUNY, with a focused discussion, and with only one dissenting vote, the SUNY Fredonia University Senate just passed our resolution. The Governor and all state legislators will be receiving it by fax at both their Albany and local offices by noon, after the Senators and I have finished the final edits on the new language (which we resolved not to wordsmith in senate). So I don't have the text to report to you all.

But I can report that our meeting ended in precisely this way:

I'll post the final text of our full resolution tomorrow morning.

Weekend Update

Here's where we stand heading into the special University Senate meeting at SUNY Fredonia in just under an hour.

Movement from the state-wide SUNY University Faculty Senate: The UFS Executive Committee is holding a conference call tomorrow morning to decide whether and how to revise their resolution, and on what other actions to take, with regard to the PHEE&IA and the NYS budget more generally.

Movement from SUNY System Administration: Chancellor Zimpher has sent a letter to the Governor and leaders of the State Senate and Assembly (majority and minority), laying out "what SUNY requires, at a minimum, to alleviate draconian cuts in program closings, retrenchments of faculty and layoffs of staff at our campuses." For the full text of her letter, as well as of SUNY's summary of and response to the Senate and Assembly budget resolutions, please head on over to our ANGEL group, dive into our Content area, enter the Campus Initiatives folder, click on "2009-2010," and look through the rich collection of documents in the "SUNY Flexibility/Budget" folder.

No public movement from UUP: Beyond what Phil Smith said at Fredonia, that is.

What does this all mean? Basically, Nancy Zimpher has decided to fight for as much of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act as she believes in salvageable. In essence, she's betting that NY's Executive (whether Governor Paterson or Lt. Gov. Ravitch) will fight hard for their own bill. Phil Smith is serenely confident the Assembly is on his side. What I hope SUNY Fredonia does is say with one voice that however the state-wide controversies play out, all parties involved can agree on the items that our Student Assembly and University Senate have identified in our resolutions as what our campus absolutely, positively needs. In essence, we're betting that the State Senate can broker a principled compromise on SUNY's budget needs.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reading the Tea Leaves

Here are Sheldon Silver's remarks on the New York State budget and budget process. Is it a bad sign that he didn't mention SUNY and SUNY students as groups the Assembly is out to protect, or a good sign that he didn't attack SUNY? I'm assuming that the Assembly specifically mentioning Lt. Gov. Ravitch's plan and calling for the Governor to resubmit his budget bill is an attempt to pressure him to be flexible with his emphasis on long-term spending restraint and lasting fiscal reform and state spending caps.

I'm also assuming SUNY benefits from the State Senate's New Jobs New York campaign, given Zimpher's emphasis on recasting SUNY's service mission as an economic and community development mission. And that 2 of the 3 men in the room during the endgame of the New York State budget process will be in favor of the provisions and principles the SUNY Fredonia University Senate will hopefully be endorsing on Monday, virtually all of which the Student Assembly already endorsed last Thursday.

But beyond that, I'm at a loss here. UUP hasn't changed its public position against cuts (yay) and against the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (even the parts Phil Smith says they support). Predictions, anyone? How much of what SUNY needs will we get from NY this year?

[Update 1 (5:24 am): I'm surprised that so few people are checking out Generation SUNY's youtube channel. The latest convocation recap features Chancellor Zimpher dropping the news that the new SUNY strategic plan will be rolled out on April 13th and taken on a two-week tour of New York. Here's hoping that the New York State budget process grinds slowly, so that everyone in and outside Albany has time to register the significance of the enduring and new directions in which she wants to lead SUNY.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Go Time! We're Having a Special SUNY Fredonia University Senate Meeting on the Budget

I'm calling a special University Senate meeting (next Monday, March 29th, at our usual time and place), to discuss and vote on a special budget resolution that the Executive Committee has developed in concert with leaders from both the Fredonia administration and the United University Professions chapter, and which parallels key provisions of a resolution being voted on by the Student Assembly this evening.

The impetus for this special meeting and resolution came from yesterday's visit by state-wide UUP President Phil Smith. Even though my strong suspicion from the end of last week that the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act is dead in the State Assembly has a 99.99% chance of being confirmed tonight or tomorrow morning, Phil indicated in both his public address and in private meetings that he supports certain aspects of the budget resolution from the State Senate. Given that the Senate and Assembly have to reconcile their budget bills in conference committees, and that everything in both is on the table, there's one last chance to push for measures that everyone here agrees would be good for the SUNY system and the hundreds of thousands of people it educates and employs.

The final draft of the resolution is scheduled for final wordsmithing tomorrow morning, but what's unlikely to change is its conclusion:

Be it resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia supports four key provisions contained in the recently passed New York State Senate Budget Resolution:

1. Allow the Board of Trustees to set undergraduate tuition within the confines of an annual "cap." Further, the Senate recommends that a fixed "cap" in the range of 8% to 10% be utilized in lieu of a HEPI-generated limit to provide for better predictability and to avoid excessive fluctuations.
2. Eliminate the "tax on tuition" by returning to the campuses 100% of the tuition they collect.
3. Move SUNY funds from State Assistance to Local Assistance, thereby placing SUNY into the same budgetary category as CUNY and community colleges.
4. Support the elimination of unnecessary duplication in the pre-approval process for construction and "goods" contracts.

Be it further resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia urges the State of New York to make a commitment to "maintenance of effort" in the provision of state dollars, and to avoid using tuition increases as a mechanism for moving away from covering mandatory costs, especially during normal budget years.

And, Be it finally resolved, the University Senate of the State University of New York at Fredonia directs the Senate Chair to forward this resolution to the Governor and to all members of the New York State Legislature.

This is still very much the art of the possible, but if state-wide UUP throws its influence behind these 5 ideas, relations between the State of New York and the State University of New York could start heading in a better direction.  Oh, and we might be able to avoid having some very difficult discussions and decisions here at Fredonia and across the SUNY system.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dr. Smith Comes to Fredonia, Part I: The Bright Side

Sorry to disappoint anyone who expected fireworks between United University Professions President Phil Smith and me during his visit to Fredonia today. He knows very well that as the month has gone on, I've grown more and more convinced that SUNY System Administration needs to address the legitimate UUP objections to specific provisions of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act--in fact I've gone further than any public positions UUP has taken in calling for specific changes to the bill and to the SUNY draft policies on tuition and asset management. We both know that the resolution the state-wide University Faculty Senate is preparing supports every part of the PHEE&IA except those portions that UUP has most strenuously and rigorously objected to. We both know that it's very likely that the State Assembly is going to kill the bill. And most important, he knows that I know that his own rhetoric and logic have moved much closer to mine over the course of the month.

Case in point: Phil's emphasis that we all need to work together to keep the Governor and legislature's feet to the fire when it comes to state support for the state university. He identified two strategic miscalculations by the new SUNY administration in their late-January budget testimony: first, failing to join UUP in advocating for restorations to the Governor's cuts and for a commitment from the state to "maintenance of effort" in the language of the PHEE&IA; second, volunteering $147M in 1-time reserves to help keep SUNY afloat should the PHEE&IA not pass. He stated directly that the Assembly Ways and Means Committee allowed the Governor's cuts to stand because of SUNY's positions. While some of this came off as finger-pointing and derriere-covering (on which more in a second), it is possible that the Chancellor's office came to see the importance of presenting a united front on the indispensability of state support only very belatedly, reluctantly, and mainly rhetorically, and that Smith's accusation that the Chancellor's notion of negotiation is you coming over to her side has merit. I'm more willing to keep an open mind on these points than I was before Phil came to campus, even if at best it means that there's plenty of blame to go around in Albany for the sorry state SUNY might be left in at the end of this year's budget process.

Case in point: Phil's repeated assertion that UUP supports specific provisions of and principles underlying the PHEE&IA. This may be revisionist history and it may be retroactive PR, but it's possible that behind closed doors UUP leadership has all along been as reasonable as Phil sounded today.

For instance, Phil's support of post-audit oversight being quite enough for purchasing goods on the open market is welcome. His example from Upstate of an expensive piece of medical equipment almost doubling in price while his campus waited for pre-audit approval was very telling.

Even more important, Phil's assertion that "UUP supports a rational, reliable, sustainable, and predictable tuition policy" is quite welcome. His point that HEPI fluctuations in part based on the inflation rate mean that at times its 5-year rolling average (at any multiplier) would be close to 0% and at times could be 20% or more is well-taken. In fact, that lack of reliability and predictability is a big part of the reason why both my campus president and I have been advocating for a clear upper limit on both general and special tuition, not to mention why the state-wide Student Assembly specifically called for a firm 6% cap--precisely to guard against swings in the multiplied rolling HEPI average on the high side and to close the gap in the cap that UUP warned against. What all of us recognize is that small, incremental increases are the only way to ensure that the state doesn't take advantage of a rational tuition policy to engineer massive cuts to taxpayer support for SUNY, not to mention drive away prospective students who would no longer be able to afford a SUNY education. We're not sure that UB or Stony Brook understand this or care, nor do we know which way SUNY System Administration is leaning. This was one of the key reasons why the sector representative from the comprehensives spoke so strongly against the PHEE&IA at the UFS winter plenary and why there was so much confusion and uncertainty during the state-wide conference call among UFS leaders on differential tuition. So the ball really is in SUNY's court at this point: when the Senate and Assembly try to reconcile their budget bills, will SUNY make serious concessions on tuition policy?

Finally, his detailed explanation of why UUP opposes granting SUNY wide-open flexibility to form public-private partnerships--solidarity with non-academic/professional unions; uncertainly of how the NLRB would rule on new employees' right to organize; fear of unit erosion should a department be moved into a non-union building run by a private organization, particularly as UUP members move or retire; the fact that in the current system campuses have an incentive to seek UUP support for any public-private partnerships, so that UUP can offer guidance, troubleshoot, and if necessary refuse to offer support to a project that doesn't look promising, for whatever reason; and the fact that several projects that didn't do this turned out to be boondoggles (at Farmingdale, Stony Brook, and Morrisville)--was quite welcome, particularly with his examples of projects at Purchase and Stony Brook for which UUP helped write the contract language. Why? Because he stated publicly the conditions under which UUP would support greater SUNY flexibility to form public-private partnerships. He treated the membership like adults, laying out his reasoning and seeking to persuade us, rather than delivering marching orders from on high. He tried to make the case that in the absence of serious money coming in from other revenue streams, SUNY would be forced to rely on tuition increases alone to try to compensate for declining state fund. Given that the UFS Executive Committee resolution addresses some of these concerns and I have addressed others, once again the ball is squarely in SUNY's court.

Case in point: Phil gave a very specific example of why he is convinced that augmenting existing SUNY revenue streams and developing new ones won't result in net gains for SUNY. He pointed out that when he arrived at Upstate in 1978, state support was around 47%--and now it's down around 10%. The state saw an opportunity to take advantage of the income the health science centers were generating: first they forced hospitals to pay for their own debt service, then their own fringe benefits, then the cost of collective bargaining increases, and finally this year they asked for over $20M to make up for retirement fund losses. If that opportunism is extended to the entire system, and the doctorals see state support drop from around 50% to around 10%, the comprehensives see state support drop from around 35% to around 10%, and so on, then eventually the question will arise of whether UUP should be negotiating with the state or with the entering freshman class and their families. Furthermore, if even UB and Stony Brook see state support drop faster than they can raise tuition, it's likely that the imbalances caused by SUNY's own formulae for distributing state funds to campuses--where Stony Brook has 57% state support and UB has near 50%--are going to be exacerbated even further, as more state money is sent to them than to the comprehensives.

So am I saying there aren't any problems left with UUP's positions and strategies? No way! But it's time to pick up my girls from day care and my wife from the airport. Stay tuned for Part II!

What the State University of New York Needs from the State of New York

As the 2010-2011 budget process in New York State enters its endgame, those concerned about the future of SUNY must necessarily play the art of the possible. But we shouldn't lose sight of what the State University of New York needs from the State of New York. It's not so different from what any system of public higher education needs from its state government.  Here are some of those things:


A general understanding that funding SUNY is an investment with both tangible/measureable returns and real but less quantifiable effects on the quality of life and culture in the regions surrounding each campus. Public higher education is a foundation for democracy, engine of economic development, magnet for population growth, key to the middle class, generator for creativity and innovation, and so much more. This understanding should inform every funding decision that affects SUNY.

A general commitment to footing the bill for the actual costs of SUNY's mission. This wouldn't prevent NY from seeking augmented federal baseline support for SUNY's research mission (even if only for certain campuses that could be designated "national research centers"). And it wouldn't prevent NY from demanding better accounting of the real costs of teaching, research, and service, not to mention less waste and more efficiency and innovation, from SUNY.

A statutory commitment to set a floor beyond which SUNY won't be cut, according to 5 standard measures. Here's hoping the floors in SUNY shares of the general fund and of per capita personal income in NY would be set above 0%. And that the minimum level of state support for SUNY per capita, per $1000 of personal income, and per student would be somewhere near national means. Tracking these stats from SUNY's formation to the present and comparing them to national and even international trends might even help the state find a sustainable equilibrium. But what SUNY needs at the very least is a legally-binding commitment to some level of maintenance of effort from New York state government, irrespective of any other means or levels of support.

A statutory commitment that the state government will stop using SUNY as a cash cow. At this point, I'm agnostic on the means: redefining SUNY campuses as local, not state, agencies; defining SUNY not as a state agency but as either a "public benefit corporation," "public-interest non-profit corporation," "educational NGO," or some other category everyone agrees is an improvement; ending appropriation of tuition dollars or, in other words, recognizing that tuition dollars are user fees paid to an individual campus rather than the equivalent of taxes paid to the state; preventing the Governor from unilaterally mandating cuts to SUNY or taxing tuition; committing the state to "maintenance of effort"; or some combination of the above.  But, to switch metaphors in mid-stream, the bottom line is that the state needs to put down the chainsaw if it wants to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden egg.


A general understanding that New York government ought to limit its role to consulting with SUNY on how to define and execute its mission, insulating SUNY from the worst dysfunctions of the New York state political process, and demanding transparency, accountability, and results from SUNY in return. The state should focus more on working with SUNY's various constituencies to rewrite SUNY's mission and vision statements than on micromanaging SUNY. As much as possible, it should use reporting and auditing rather than regulations and pre-approvals as its oversight tool of SUNY management. If it conceives of its role as helping to set up a system of checks and balances within SUNY that assures each constituency has a real voice and seat at the table in goal-setting and decision-making at both system and campus levels, then it should step back and let them hash out how to make SUNY a great state university system. As I've argued before, this involves specific concessions from both the Governor and the state legislature. But it could also involve setting broad performance expectations for SUNY.

A general commitment to helping SUNY combine the greatest access with the highest quality. Part of this involves baseline funding and state financial aid via TAP and low-cost loans direct from the federal and/or state government; part of this involves giving SUNY some flexibility to determine its own tuition and asset management policies; and part of this involves setting up a SUNY-wide endowment in which each campus's non-restricted funds are pooled, augmented by state-level fund-raising, and managed by Ivy-League-quality money managers so that each campus receives a portion of the returns each year according to an agreed-upon formula that's larger than what they could have generated if they had managed them on their own.

A statutory commitment to ensuring that the SUNY Board of Trustees is made up of nationally-recognized higher education leaders with a real commitment to excellence in public higher education. I've argued before for the creation of "a non-partisan panel of state- and nationally-recognized higher education leaders to recommend new appointments to the SUNY BOT" and the lodging of appointment authority in "a 7-person board consisting of the Governor and the majority and minority leaders and the chairs of the committees in charge of higher ed in the state Senate and Assembly." But I'm agnostic as to how this goal ought best to be accomplished.

A statutory commitment to a data- and mission-driven funding process for SUNY at the earliest stages of the state budgeting process. I've argued before for the formation of a "working group on the SUNY component of the state budget consisting of representatives from DOB, SUNY System Administration, UUP, UFS, and campus presidents and business officers from each of SUNY's sectors" that is empowered to make recommendations to "a 7-person board consisting of the Governor and the majority and minority leaders and the chairs of the committees in charge of finance in the state Senate and Assembly" with the authority to "revise the working group's recommendations and insert them directly into the Governor's budget bill." But again I'm agnostic on the forms/means here. What I'm really after is the front-loading and depoliticizing the real work of setting a SUNY budget from June to January rather than back-loading and politicizing it from January to June. This would entail setting up some system of consultation/negotiation among representatives from all relevant SUNY constituencies and state government bodies that focuses on analyzing the kind of data I discuss above and determining mission-critical needs during this front-loaded period. I'm open to good ideas on what kind of system and who participates at what stage.

A statutory commitment to vesting authority to determine tuition and asset management policy in the SUNY BOT, within certain limits, under certain conditions, and following certain principles and procedures. As I've argued before at great length, the key provisions of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act are worth supporting and improving. I'm not going to reiterate those arguments here. The basic idea is that SUNY needs to be a responsible partner to state government; if it commits to transparency, accountability, and results, and if it is provided the kind of infrastructure and framework laid out in this post, then SUNY should be able to augment existing revenue streams and generate new ones. So long as their forms, goals, uses are consistent with its mission, in the best interests of and agreed upon by each of its various constituencies, and aimed at making SUNY as sustainable and as self-supporting as possible over the very long run, what's to worry about?


I'm sure I'm missing many pieces of the puzzle here.  I'm hoping my readers will help me find them--and assemble them!

[Update 1 (4:44 am): Here's what the state-wide SUNY Student Assembly wants to see with regard to tuition policy.]

[Update 2 (5:45 am): Interested in tracking the UC Commission on the Future's activities and recommendations.]

[Update 3 (5:50 am): Chris Newfield is not that impressed.]

[Update 4 (5:55 am): Neither is Bob Samuels.]

[Update 5 (2:05 pm): Neither is Rei Terada.]

[Update 6 (3:33 pm): Check out UC Regent Live(Blog)--nice play-by-play from the UC student regent.]

[Update 7 (3/26/10, 2:48 am): Nice op-ed by former UC state-wide Planning and Budget Committee chair and UC San Francisco professor Stanton Glantz.]

[Update 8 (3:11 am): Chris Bray piles on the UCOF. His satire convinces me that Nancy Zimpher's SUNY-wide strategic planning initiative is a lot better way to generate ideas than what UC's chancellor came up with. For a systems-theory-influenced take on the difficulty of system-wide strafegic planning and crisis management, check out Viviane Michel.]

[Update 9 (3/31/10, 5:00 pm): Dean Dad makes a strong case that community colleges need to be funded according to a "we will pay you x dollars per student/credit/graduate" model. He adds, "If the 'x' is high enough, then the college could combine it with tuition/fees and more than cover the costs of growth; it would have every reason to grow to meet demand. (Ideally, 'x' would be indexed to some relevant measure, so its value wouldn't get inflated away over time.)"]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours: Keeping up with Albany's Budget Process

The Middle States reaccreditation team has certainly chosen an interesting week to visit the SUNY Fredonia campus. We're all scrambling to keep up with the latest news from Albany and figure out what, if anything, we can do to influence the outcome of the New York state budget process as it nears its endgame. I'll start off with a quick recap of reactions to the budget resolution the of the New York State Senate.

UUP President Phil Smith sent the following email blast a few minutes after I posted my own reaction:

Today, the Senate released a Resolution on the Executive Budget and the Article VII Bill. To say that the language of this resolution is confusing would be an understatement. Nonetheless, there's several parts of this Resolution that would be harmful to us.


Resolution recommends a tuition increase of 1.5 times the 5-year average of HEPI, but doesn't provide appropriation authority for that increase.

Resolution does away with the Asset Management Review Board, but then goes on to allow public-private partnerships ONLY at Stony Brook and University at Buffalo. Does this mean there's NO oversight?

Resolution recommends differential tuition for Stony Brook and University at Buffalo, but protects CUNY students from differential tuition by campus.

Resolution lets stand the Governor's cut to SUNY appropriations! calls for an additional cut of $15.4M to unspecified "university-wide programs."

Resolution supports the Governor's plan to eliminate funding for NYSTI.

In view of the dangerous nature of the Senate Resolution, I ask that you visit our Web site and send a message to your Legislators to SUPPORT SUNY funding...and OPPOSE the PHEEIA. While at the Web site, please send a letter of SUPPORT for our SUNY hospitals and the New York State Theatre Institute.

It only takes a moment to send these four letters....and it WILL help protect our University....and our JOBS!

State-wide SUNY University Faculty Senate Chair Ken O'Brien sent the following email this morning to campus governance leaders:

Since we are constrained by our By-laws from an electronic vote of the Senate, we have adopted a procedure that will have the attached resolution as an action item of the Executive Committee of the Senate, that is the 5 sector reps, the Vice President and the Chancellor's representative. They, like all committees, can vote by electronic means.

I am distributing the resolution, as we did the revised chart (after UUP leadership sent me their complete file, along with an apology for their error) with the letter, the charts and graphs depicting the recent history of NYS funding, and the letter we sent to the Chancellor following our phone meeting last week. It is the item of the agenda for sector phone conversations that will be scheduled this week for each of the UFS sectors. These are intended to give your elected sector reps a better feel for where you stand on the issues raised by PHEEIA.

Is our action too late? Maybe is the honest answer, but probably not, inasmuch as the houses of the legislature are just beginning to report their staff positions on the legislation, and it appears they are coming to somewhat different conclusions, at least as far as initial public positions are concerned. Which means for us, having a voice in this process may have some small degree of influence.

As I have indicated before, we have taken this issue step by step, awaiting relevant information, which we then distributed. Along the way, there may have been missteps, but I think I have been true to the commitment that I made at the winter plenary, that you would have a voice in the public position taken by this organization, and frankly, the resolution is our best reading of where we stand as a group, not where I stand. At least the process has been as open and transparent as we could make it.

Carol Donato will be scheduling the phone conferences and the EC will then meet (electronically) next Monday.

Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing you all one more time at the Spring plenary in New Paltz next month.

As always, you can go to the SUNY Fredonia University Senate web site, click on the link to our ANGEL group and enter our Content area, Campus Initiatives folder, 2009-2010 folder, and finally our SUNY Flexibility folder for a copy of the draft Executive Committee resolution that Ken references.

SUNY Fredonia President Dennis Hefner summarized the resolution in an email to campus leaders this morning, noting that

The "cap" of about 6% for tuition increases will be the lowest in the nation (Oklahoma and several others are next lowest at 8%, most are between 9% and 10%); however, this resolution represents the first time any part of the New York legislature has indicated a willingness to move some tuition authority to the Board of Trustees....

Overall, the Senate resolution represents some good news.  We still have a long way to go, but at least there is a “fighting” chance.

President Hefner passed along an email from Jim Campbell, SUNY's director of legislative relations, who noted that "The Assembly has not yet announced their 'one house' priorities. They have adjourned until [this] afternoon and we will update you as we learn more information. Both the Assembly Majority and Minority have called for members only conferences, which might lead one to believe they are discussing budget priorities."

So, yeah, lots going on in Albany and here at Fredonia, as I'm discussing with other campus leaders whether we want to try to pass a joint resolution on the NYS budget. Nothing can happen sooner than Thursday, as tomorrow the chair of the Middle States visiting team and Phil Smith will each be addressing the campus.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My 15-Minute Reaction to the State Senate's Budget Resolution

Picking up my girls from day care in 15 minutes from the time I started writing this, so here's my rapid-fire response to the New York State Senate's Budget Resolution.

What I Like
1. The call for a statutory change that would allow SUNY to receive and retain all tuition revenue, even if it is via state appropriation.
2. The elimination of the tax on tuition.
3. Allowing the BOT to establish a rational tuition policy, with a cap at 1.5 times the five-year rolling HEPI average: #1-#3 help the comprehensives, which are very tuition-dependent.
4. The rejection of a cap on out-of-state enrollment: this seemed unfair to non-residents and xenophobic when it comes to international students; NY and American students ought to learn about taking college seriously by competing with students from other states and countries who choose to enroll in SUNY; moreover, many of them might decide to live and work in NY after graduation.

What I Don't Care About
1. The rejection of land-lease authority to the BOT, as approved by a new SUNY Asset Maximization Board: didn't really matter much out here in Western NY, anyway.
2. Only allowing the shift to a post-audit system for the procurement of goods: hey, if the state Senate wants to waste taxpayer money, that's their call.
3. Hitting SUNY System Administration with a $5.5M cut: drop in the bucket that looks like payback for daring to challenge legislative control.

What I Hate
1. The privileging of UB and Stony Brook when it comes to setting a campus-wide differential tuition rate: why identify 2 flagships that'll now most likely move to the high-tuition/high-aid model and screw over the other 32 state-operated campuses? The only way this helps the other 32 is if state support remains constant and what would have gone to those 2 schools gets spread throughout the system.
2. Allowing differential tuition by program and campus only for out-of-state undergraduate and graduate/professional students: everywhere else, limiting special tuition rates to a small pool of students guarantees most campuses will receive very little actual benefit from the work involved in determining the special rate. Plus, it's unfair to those groups of students.

More later!

[Update 1 (7:52 pm): And of course the biggest thing I hate about the Senate's budget resolution is its support of the Governor's cuts to SUNY! Looks like the state senate is getting the chainsaw ready for 2011-2012, while putting a dollop of whipped cream on a bread-and-water diet for the vast majority of 4-year institutions in SUNY as a special treat while we languish in the state budget dungeon.]

What Can New York Learn from Michigan and California When It Comes to Public Higher Ed?

In Unmaking the Public University (2009), Christopher Newfield takes a careful look at the fortunes of the University of Michigan and University of California as they have responded to "declining public money" by "increasing private funds" (174). He takes direct aim at the failure of Robert Zemsky, Gregory Wegner, and William Massy's Remaking the Public University (2005) to provide evidence of a "causal relationship between 'going to market' and new revenues" (175). Since this is the fundamental ground of dispute between the leadership of SUNY and UUP over New York's Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, it would make a big difference whether Newfield's analysis proves that it is structurally impossible for the PHEE&IA to produce new revenues for SUNY or simply identifies problems to avoid. Today, I'll follow up on my earlier response to Newfield by arguing that Unmaking the University actually supports the latter view.

I'll start by focusing on Newfield's attempts to rebut Zemsky, Wegner, and Massy's portrayal as a success story of the University of Michigan's strategy to "diversify its income sources" in response to a "deindustrializing state economy and falling tax revenues in the early 1980s" via "increas[ing] private fund-raising, continuously rais[ing] tuition, and support[ing] entrepreneurial faculty members in their quest for larger shares of both federal money and industry sponsorship" (174). To do that, Newfield points out that

  • UM was a "principal beneficiary" of a boom in public research funding from the early 1980s through the mid-2000s, sparked by federal research money for the health sciences, which is one of UM's areas of great strength (175);
  • even though UM already had a strong fundraising operation and the largest alumni base in the nation, its "receipts did not outpace philanthropic growth for American universities as a whole" (176);
  • even though UM raised tuition and the percentage of out-of-state students in each entering class sharply and often, "much of these revenues replaced lost state funding rather than offered new money" (176); and
  • UM's rank in "U.S. News & World Report's infamous reputational survey" declined from 8th in 1987 to 25th in 2003; its selectivity did not improve; with so many out-of-state students in the system and especially at Ann Arbor, UM failed to advance its original mission of "educating the population of Michigan itself" (which is "well below the national average in the percentage of the state's population that receives bachelor's or advanced degrees"); its share of African-American students declined so sharply that even after years of improvements, its 2005 freshman class's proportion of Africans Americans was about half the state's; and its share of students from lower-income families as measured by the percentage of students with Pell Grants was about half of UC Santa Barbara's (176).
Thus, it should be no surprise that Newfield concludes: "While UM has done an effective job of protecting its Ann Arbor flagship, it has not protected the quality of the UM system, of Michigan higher education overall, or of higher education access for the residents of the state" (176).  Highlighting the costs of the UM model is part of Newfield's larger strategy to convince other state systems not to try to imitate it.  His core argument that declining public funds can't even be replaced, much less augmented, by private fund-raising (in the form of tuition and private philanthropy), can be found on pages 183-189 of Unmaking the Public University, but for the greatest impact I suggest turning to the May 2006 study Current Budget Trends and the Future of the University of California by the UC Academic Council's University Committee on Planning and Budget, on which Newfield was a principal co-author.

I'll hit the high points for you via reference to both:

  • their report confirmed UC's own data (in which UC's share of California's general fund declined from 7% in 1970-1971 to 3.1% in 2006-2007) with "a dismal tale of an overall trend of declining education funding in a state with one of the largest concentrations of wealthy individuals and industries in the world," buttressed by such measures as "declining state share of 'UC Core Funds' (down to 45% around 2005 from 60% in 2001), and the state's declining contribution measured as a share of personal income" (UPU 185; cf. CBT 6 for a great chart that illustrates that state support for "that portion of the campus budgets that are directly concerned with the everyday educational mission" has declined from a peak above 75% in 1985-1986, to around 60% in both 1991-1992 and 2001-2002, to around 45% in 2005-2006; cf. CBT 18 for a chart that compares projected state support of "UC Core Funds" under the Compact to a restoration of 2001-2002 levels; cf. CBT 7 for UC's share of CA's general fund charted from 1985-2006; and cf. CBT 8 and 13 for UC's share of state personal income from 1985-2006, which declined from a high of near .38% in 1987 to near .20% in 2006);
  • their report projected that the May 2004 "Higher Education Compact" among UC, California State University, and the governor of California, would leave the UC system in 2010-2011 "about $1.2B a year behind its extrapolated 2001 funding level, and twice as much behind its extrapolated 1990 funding level (on a base of about $3.3B in state general fund money in 2001)" (UPU 185-186);
  • their report projected that under the Compact state funding per student would decline from a little over $13K in 2001-2002 to a little under $10K in 2010-2011 (UPU 186; cf. CBT 18-19 for more detail); and
  • their report noted that using private philanthropy to replace the lost state support under the Compact would require UC to raise $30B in new funding for its endowment--that is, pass Harvard within 5 years (CBT 22-23).
Unfortunately, the most recent national data that I could find used different measures than Newfield's committee's study--state support for higher education per $1000 in personal income and per capita, for FY 2008-2009 and FY 2009-2010--so without knowing CA's total personal income in those years, I can't determine how on-target its projections were (of course I'd have to ignore the bump from federal stimulus support). But even if the study overestimated the decline in public support of UC, its basic point that the Compact locked in post-9/11 cuts to state support of public higher education in California and put UC on a private fund-raising treadmill whose pace would be unsustainable for most schools in the system looks pretty prescient today.

Even more prescient, however, was the worst-case scenario that the study contemplated, which it called the "Public Funding Freeze" model. What does it entail?

Another downturn in state finances and continued political opposition to tax increases prompts state and University leaders to reluctantly concede that it would be better to conduct an organized shift away from public funding than to suffer further uncertainty amidst a new cycle of budget crises. They decide to become a "state-assisted university" and to "privatize" centrally and systematically. State leaders agree to cap the General Fund at 2005-2006 levels (in nominal dollars), to allow the General Fund share to decline to 15% of the university's budget (or about 1/3 of the "core") by the end of 2010-2011. (CBT 29)

In this situation, "the public spends half the share of its income on UC tha[n] it had a decade earlier (down to 0.15% of per capita personal income by 2011)" (UBU 187; cf. CBT 29 for the summary table). The report's executive summary explains the ramifications of such a freeze:

The state continues to carry a structural deficit, remains politically polarized, has expensive needs in health and human services, and awaits new budgetary surprises such as unfunded health care obligations for retired state employees. These problems may encourage some to move UC toward a "high-tuition/high-aid" model in tandem with aggressive private fundraising, increased industry partnerships, and expanded sales and services. This fourth scenario, however, cannot actually be achieved with private fundraising: to obtain the billion dollars that will be lost by comparison with the Compact, and to obtain it in unrestricted payouts, the University would need to raise $25 billion in unrestricted gifts. To reach the 2001-02 funding level, more than $54 billion would be needed. Alternately, tuition increases big enough to fill the gap would shrink enrollments and, at the same time, reduce the quality of the university’s student body. The overall UC system would continue in name but not in reality, as the most prestigious campuses draw on a national student pool and collect large amounts of non-resident tuition while other campuses struggle with diminished resources, fewer programs, and reduced research capacity. Wasteful intercampus competition may arise, in part in the form of the budgetary fragmentation that the Master Plan had in its time brought to a close. Since undergraduate instruction is disproportionately dependent on the state General Fund, such changes would seriously damage the assumption of a high-quality curriculum for all qualified students. The Public Funding Freeze would end the UC system as we know it. (CBT 2; cf. 29-34 for the gory details)

Newfield's commentary in Unmaking the Public University says it all: "The outcome would be something like what Michigan, New York, and Texas have now: systems where relatively poor and academically struggling institutions coexist with one or two research flagships in a ph[]ase stratification" (189).

In other words, following the UM model would mean that California would move from a situation where all eligible high school graduates could attend a public research flagship to 84% of them making do with "the more limited opportunities of a regional state college" (189). This would entail "major economic and sociocultural losses" (190):

State colleges have fewer resources, offer less or little research, and generally place fewer of their students in positions of social or professional leadership. Students coming out of them have lower incomes than students from major research universities (public or private) and pay less in taxes back to the states that educated them. On average, state college graduates have more limited prospects. States that send a higher proportion of their public university students to regional rather than research universities have lower average incomes, and, we can infer, more socioeconomic stratification within their college-educated middle classes. (190)

Newfield argues plausibly that what the majority of students gain at research universities via exposure to "both the results of advanced research and the process through which research creates knowledge" (190) and from the resulting "practices of intellectual independence" (191) are "more developed capacities to innovate and restructure systems on an ongoing basis" (192). But for a public university to successfully combine the quality of teaching at small liberal arts colleges with the exposure to advanced research methods and results of Ivy League universities, it needs significant state support for such an expensive and labor-intensive endeavor. When that support is withdrawn, "faculty are not hired or replaced, more teaching is done with less expensive lecturers and teaching assistants, class size is increased, and classes are dropped" (192). Private giving, by contrast, "is almost always restricted, and goes to targeted research, sports, trademark-building projects, and the special interests of donors" (192):

Private funding does not come in sufficient supply to support core operations: teaching lower-division courses, writing tutorials, calculus and bench laboratory experience, language instruction, seminar interaction, independent study, and well-staffed large lectures in which students continue to get adequate personal attention. Personal attention is the core element of high-quality mass higher education: the brilliant top will do fine on its own, but the other 95%--with plenty of potential but less experience, training, entitlement, and confidence--need the kind of highly developed teaching infrastructure that costs serious money. (193-194)

In both his co-authored study and book, then, Newfield has built a strong case that core university operations--high-quality mass teaching and research--couldn't be well-supported across the UC system in a budget freeze, even were tuition to be raised to $15K per year for in-state students. 

Now, in showing that Zemsky, Wegner, and Massy are wrong to accept both "the shift from general public funding to a 'user fee' model in which students and their families pay privately for their education" and the notion that "higher education [should seek to] replace[s] lost public funding with higher user fees" (175), Newfield does leave himself some wiggle room when he acknowledges that "[i]ncreasing 'user fees' is a traditional strategy that is fully compatible with public funding and does not in itself signal a new adaptation to market forces" (176). Sure, it's an effective critique of Zemsky, Wegner, and Massy's choice of UM as a key supporting example--rather than being both "market-smart" and "mission-centered," Newfield's analysis suggests that it is neither--but it also allows him to implicitly accept the existence of some tuition at public universities.  If it is invested directly into enhancements of teaching and research, if it augments a firm base of public support for core operations, and if it remains low enough to not act as a barrier to student access, then some tuition is justifiable.

But how to identify what a firm base of public support for public higher education ought to be?  Newfield's analysis suggests that we track the following measures in New York over long periods of time:
  • SUNY share of NY's general fund
  • NY general fund share of SUNY's operating budget
  • NY general fund share of SUNY's core operations
  • SUNY share of per capita personal income in NY
  • per capita personal income in NY invested in SUNY
  • amount per $1000 in personal income in NY invested in SUNY
If we use data trends and national comparisons to ask ourselves where we would like to see these numbers go in the future, why, and how to get there, then we can take a debate over the PHEE&IA that's so far relied mostly on tall tales, overheated rhetoric, and emotional appeals and turn it into something that will be useful to all concerned about the future of SUNY, whether or not the PHEE&IA passes.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down my favorite figure, the 4th on the above list. Knowing SUNY's share of NY per capita income would be the best way of comparing levels across the region and the country.

Some of this data is publicly available, though. From the Grapevine study I linked to above, I found out that I'm paying a little bit more than the state average into the SUNY system this academic year. But even if I broke into six figures (and I'm not even close), my total commitment to SUNY via taxes would be just over $525 per $100K. That's a lot more than I donate to Hamilton College each year (Princeton doesn't need my money). Restoring progressivity to NY's tax system would allow those who benefitted the most from their own higher education to contribute their fair share to provide opportunities for the next generation--and an incentive to reduce their taxes via private giving to higher ed.

In addition, SUNY has been sharing some of this data with state-wide and campus governance leaders.  Assuming they're using the same calculations as Newfield for "core operations," the level of state support for SUNY core operations is comparable to his figures.  General fund support bounced around in the high 60% and low 70% range in the early '90s, declined sharply into the low 60% range in the late '90s, climbed into the mid-60% range for the first 3 years of the 2000s, plunged sharply again for the next 3 years into the mid-50% range, recovered for the next 3 years into the high 50% and low 60% range, and then dropped sharply again this academic year to near 50%.   But all signs suggest that 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 will see us fall into the low-to-mid 40% range. So in a sense UC's fortunes could be understood as the "canary in the mineshaft" for SUNY. While both systems suffered large cuts in 1995 and 2003, SUNY managed to keep significantly more state support for core operations. But we're approaching where UC was back in 2005-2006.

It's worth noting, however, that university colleges like my own institution have been bearing a disproportionate share of the costs of declining state support within the SUNY system. The average share of state support for the comprehensives tends to lag about 15 percentage points behind the doctorates in SUNY. Whereas the doctorates have fallen from the high 50% range to the low 50% range in the last 3 academic years, the comprehensives have declined from the mid-40% range to the mid-30% range. And in fact at SUNY Fredonia, the state's share will fall below 20% for next academic year if the Governor's cuts go through. This is because we gain revenue not only from student tuition and fees (along with a relatively low level of financial aid compared to our peer institutions in SUNY), but also from residence halls, food services, and the campus bookstore. It's often quoted that our Faculty Student Association's activities generate more revenue for the campus than does state support. I wouldn't be surprised if the average regular at our campus Starbucks (a franchise run by our FSA) spends more in a year than she is taxed by the state to support SUNY Fredonia.

And that trend is likely to accelerate here and across the state in the next several years, whether or not the PHEE&IA passes. If it does go down in flames, students are likely to see a much higher tuition increase than they otherwise would have gotten. If they think they have a better chance of influencing New York's dysfunctional political system than their local campus leadership, more power to them. They'll need it.

We'll all need it, in fact. We'll need a range of tactics and a concerted effort to craft an overall strategy to bring the figures Newfield suggests we track back to equitable and sustainable levels.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are You There, Albany? It's Me, the Constructivist; or, An Outline of a Political Settlement on the Empowerment Act

All right, enough with the despair over the prospects of passing the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA). Even if it's quickly getting to the point where serious cooperation between the leaders of organizations representing almost the full range of SUNY constituencies can make little if any impact on the legislative process, there's still a lot that can happen as the budget bill is finalized. If the rumors I'm hearing are true that it's going to be rushed through, here are the outlines of a compromise that the infamous "3 men in a room" in Albany can understand, and perhaps sign off on.

It's pretty clear that the PHEE&IA sidelines the state legislature while keeping the Governor firmly in charge of SUNY. After all, the legislature would have to give up control over SUNY's tuition were the bill to become law, but nothing in it changes the fact that SUNY counts as a state agency (and so is subject to unilateral funding cuts from the Governor), or that the Governor appoints the SUNY Board of Trustees, the initiates the budget-setting process for SUNY (via the Division of Budget), and negotiates with the unions representing SUNY employees (via the Governor's Office of Employee Relations). Even when the bill appears to include the state Senate and Assembly, the Governor retains control. For instance, the State University Asset Maximization Review Board it creates is appointed solely by the Governor, with only advice on voting members from the majority leaders of the legislature and on non-voting positions from the minority leaders. (Although at this point there's a chance the bill will be amended to revise the existing State Asset Maximization Review Board, unless the draft of the SUNY Comprehensive Asset Management Policy that I've seen simply has a typo.) Simply on balance of power grounds within New York's system of separation of powers, then, the state legislature has little reason to support the Governor's proposal.

Herein lie the seeds for a political settlement. If the state legislature is willing to concede that the campuses and the system can do a better job handling tuition policy than it has, what is the Governor willing to concede?

How about his unilateral authority to mandate cuts to the state-operated campuses' budgets? As local institutions, SUNY's community colleges and the City University of New York are not subject to this gubernatorial power, so why should the rest of SUNY? If the PHEE&IA were to redefine the state-operated campuses as public legal entities, such as "public benefit corporations," as the State University Business Officers Association has called for in "The Case for Enhanced SUNY Flexibility" (September 2008), then the Governor would be demonstrating his willingness to give up this control over SUNY budgets and setting an example for the state legislature. Or if the bill redefined his budget-cutting authority over SUNY as subject to legislative approval (within a certain period of time), he would at least allow time for the democratic process to vet his decision-making.

How about his power to appoint SUNY Trustees? If the PHEE&IA were to create a non-partisan panel of state- and nationally-recognized higher education leaders to recommend new appointments to the SUNY BOT, and if they made recommendations to a 7-person board consisting of the Governor and the majority and minority leaders and the chairs of the committees in charge of higher ed in the state Senate and Assembly, which had final authority to approve or reject the panel's recommendations, the governance of SUNY would be insulated from New York's political processes and the power to affect the membership of the ultimate authority in SUNY would be shared.

How about the initiation of the budget-setting process for SUNY? If the PHEE&IA were to create a working group on the SUNY component of the state budget consisting of representatives from DOB, SUNY System Administration, UUP, UFS, and campus presidents and business officers from each of SUNY's sectors, then they could look at historical patterns in the share of state personal income devoted to SUNY, the level of state support for SUNY per capita and per $1000 of personal income, and the share of the state general fund devoted to SUNY, and compare them to regional, national, and international data, and make a better-informed recommendation as to SUNY's funding in a given fiscal year. And if a 7-person board consisting of the Governor and the majority and minority leaders and the chairs of the committees in charge of finance in the state Senate and Assembly had the authority to revise the working group's recommendations and insert them directly into the Governor's budget bill, a consensus on an appropriate level of funding for SUNY could be developed by January of each budget cycle, which would give the committees and members of the state legislature plenty of time to double-check the board's recommendation and consult with their constituencies as they finalize the budget bill.

After making all those concessions, the Governor wouldn't have any reason or need to give up the authority granted him under the Taylor Act to bargain with state employee unions. I don't think anyone in the legislature would fault him for that. With these concessions in place, the "3 men in a room" could figure out what else needs to be improved in the PHEE&IA to make it work better for everyone in SUNY and in New York State. And perhaps be ready to listen to a united advocacy effort from SUNY, UUP, and UFS.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Get Out Your Secret Decoder Rings, Ken, Nancy, and Phil!

I've been hearing from various sources that New York state's political "leaders" are going to try to rush through a 2010-2011 budget bill, perhaps as soon as this coming week. If this is true, I have some more unsolicited advice for SUNY's University Faculty Senate, System Administration, and UUP leadership. But why put it in my own words when I can borrow from the greats?

Robertson Davies:  "If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get" (Fifth Business).

T.S. Eliot:  "HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME" (The Waste Land).

William Shakespeare:  "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well/ It were done quickly" (Macbeth I.vii).

Abraham Lincoln:  "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle" (possibly apocryphal).

Yeah, I'm reduced to listing motivational quotations whose contexts often undermine their apparent message (and embedding a link to an analysis of a Guinness ad in lieu of an actual source for my last one!). I could add Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "fierce urgency of now" from "I Have a Dream," but that would be going over the top, wouldn't it?

Why all the silliness? Well, I'm 95% sure the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act is already dead. The only scenario I can imagine for a revival is if there's an announcement from SUNY, UUP, and UFS early next week that they've come to an agreement on what it should become, followed by a full-court press on all relevant legislators and a mass appeal to New Yorkers across a variety of media. Now, if UUP President Phil Smith cancels his planned visit to Fredonia to stay in Albany and make this happen, then I'll see some glimmer of hope. But I put the odds that all 3 organizations will be able to come to an agreement and synchronize their message at this late stage of the game around 5%.

Guinness, anyone?

[Update 1 (6:06 am): Listening to Nancy Zimpher's interview on WBFO from the 18th.]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Phase 1 Complete of SUNY's University Faculty Senate Action Plan on the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act

Only have time today for a quick update on the action plan of the SUNY-wide University Faculty Senate. Received this on the Campus Governance Leaders listserv this morning:

Hi All,

Attached is the letter that I have drafted following our phone conversation earlier this week and today's very helpful conversation with the members of Executive Committee. It has been delivered to the Chancellor and the Sr. Vice Chancellor today.

The Executive Committee and I have agreed on a process for going forward:

I will draft a resolution on PHEEIA for their consideration and after discussion next week to get a document we want to take beyond the EC, it will be distributed and the sector reps will set up phone conversations with the senators in their sectors to discuss the attendant issues. After those conversations, we will meet (by phone) to discuss where we are, with the intention of coming to a resolution on the resolution.

I want to thank everyone who has assisted in this process, which is EVERYONE who has emailed their thoughts, considerations, qualms, or concerns, about either substance or process.

Without knowing the final result, I can only indicate that we have tried to act openly, with transparency at each stage, giving everyone an opportunity to learn the nuances of the many issues PHEEIA raises for us. And, then to act in an appropriate, timely manner. I understand that there may some who object to the steps that have been or will be taken, but understand this has been a process in which your voices count.

So, my heartfelt thanks all for making collaboration over long distances work.

Ken O'Brien

I've posted the letter itself on the SUNY Fredonia University Senate ANGEL group, which you can enter as a guest via the Fredonia Senate web site and clicking on the link to the Senate ANGEL group in the top right corner. Then navigate from the "Content" tab on the left to the "Campus Initiatives" folder to the "2009-2010" folder to the "SUNY Flexibility" folder, where you'll find a veritable cornucopia of public documents and data on the PHEE&IA.

No time to add anything else right now. More coming soon, I promise, including results from my conversation with State Senator Cathy Young earlier this afternoon and my conversation with Fredonia President Dennis Hefner in just a few minutes. Only thing I'll say right now is that the UFS may have to move up its timetable if it wants to have any leverage at all in what happens before April Fool's Day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What I Hope to See from State-Wide University Faculty Senate Leadership Today

Sometime this morning, I'm going to receive a draft letter from SUNY University Faculty Senate Chair Ken O'Brien addressed to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Monica Rimai and cc:ed to United University Professions President Phil Smith that summarizes the consensus among the Executive Board and SUNY Senators and Campus Governance Leaders who participated in our conference call yesterday afternoon on the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA). I'm immediately going to distribute it to SUNY Fredonia University Senate officers and committee chairs, along with other active participants in our asynchronous conversation here on campus, for rapid response: comments and revision suggestions from all and an up-or-down vote from the Executive Committee on the letter itself, both of which I'll return to Ken by mid-afternoon. Once he has revised the draft, sent the final version of his letter to its addressees, and distributed it more broadly, I'll make it available on our Senate web site and ANGEL group (most of which is open to all--just drill down from "Content" to "Campus Initiatives" to "2009-2010" to "SUNY Flexibility" and download away).

Forgive me for refraining to blog on the draft letter itself--transparency does have its limits, even for me--but I'll try to make up for that by continuing to analyze the larger issues and questions raised by the PHEE&IA debates, report on responses to the UFS leadership's official letter at my campus, and explore ways of putting serious pressure on all the Albany players to do right by SUNY, individually, through the Fredonia Senate, and through the state-wide UFS.

This morning, I'll offer my own personal perspective on the PHEE&IA and on the roles SUNY UFS and campus governance bodies can play in the coming weeks. Let me start with the latter topic. Unlike campus presidents and local UUP chapter officers, who are constrained by their roles to publicly adhere to the talking points generated by their superiors (ultimately Zimpher in SUNY and Smith in UUP)--which is intended on each side to create the appearance that the dictates from Albany share wide support across the system but which in fact reinforce perceptions that SUNY is riven by labor-management/faculty-administration divides and power struggles--those involved in governance at both campus and state-wide levels are relatively free to subject both SUNY and UUP talking points and leaders to critical scrutiny, to ask difficult questions, and to withhold judgment until facts, positions, arguments, and evidence are clarified. They also have bright lines of responsibility to the constituents they were elected to represent, open lines of communication with them, and a forum that allows for some measure of deliberative democracy (should the timing of Albany politics permit campus and state-wide governance bodies to meet and vote). Finally, they have more leverage right now and in the coming days and weeks than they perhaps have ever had. This is one of those rare moments where the roles and functions of governance bodies require and enable them to enter the political realm through that good ol' "public use of reason" enlightened intellectuals are supposed to regularly provide to their societies. It's a rare case where theory and practice may coincide so neatly. If the UFS could get SUNY administrators and UUP leadership focused now at the 11th hour on what they should have been doing before the PHEE&IA was a gleam in some administrator's eye--working together, negotiating, and hammering out their differences so as to present a united front on the future of SUNY--instead of this very high-stakes game of chicken playing out in the op ed pages and letters pages of newspapers across the state, on tv and the web, and in the halls of the legislature, well, then, that would be some accomplishment.

It may not be possible. It may turn out that the differences between SUNY and UUP leadership are incommensurable. For clarification of what I mean by this term, let me turn for a moment to Michael Berube's What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? (2006) for a lucid run-down of the Habermas-Lyotard debates and his proposed solution to the conundrum they pose. Berube patiently and vividly explains how he teaches the conflict, which to him is "looking more and more important with each passing year, and which, I think, poses such intractable problems for critical theory and political practice that our era may well be defined by them" (219).

I want to frame the Lyotard-Habermas debate as a metadebate about the purpose of debate itself, and I want to start off by impressing upon you the uncomfortable fact that, at this meta-level, we can say neither that the debate is resolvable nor that it is unresolvable. It is impossible not to take a position on this one, and worse, it is impossible not to take a position that betrays the nature of the debate.

In 1999 and 2001, this "framing" device met with a roomful of puzzled and/or exasperated looks, as well it should have. For, as I told both classes of students, it is a conundrum. It's infinitely recursive. I even wrote the form of the conundrum on the blackboard, and it went something like this: if you say the dispute between Lyotard and Habermas can in fact be resolved by principles on which both parties can ultimately agree, you are, in effect, awarding the palm to Habermas and the pro-consensus, pro-communicative action party. If, on the contrary, you give up and say that this is is simply a fundamental impasse and can't be resolved, you have in effect resolved it by awarding the palm to Lyotard and the pro-incommensurability, pro-heterogeneity party. And you can't say "neither of the above," because that too defaults to Lyotard. (229-230)

Here's Berube's rather elegant solution:

[S]ometimes the Lyotardians and the proponents of discurvive heterogeneity tend to walk away from a conflict and declare it unresolvable before they've really worked with it.... [W]hen I suggest that some postmodernists are too quick to declare a conflict unresolvable, I don't mean to reinstate the [Habermasian] demand that the ideal speech situation should be oriented toward consensus; I'm not even thinking about getting disparate parties to agree.... Instead, when I'm faced with the conflict between two parties with well-developed belief systems, I want to know one crucial thing above all: what internal protocols do they have that would enable them to change their minds about something? Do they have, for instance, an evidentiary standard, and if so, what do they admit as evidence? And what forms of authority are endowed with the capacity to decide such matters? Is there a Supreme Court, a council of elders, a parliament, a workers' collective, a Leviathan? Are there competing moral imperatives within one or the other belief system that would be likely to induce a person to reconsider his or her position on grounds that are intelligible within the belief system itself? (231-232)

Never mind that that's much more than one thing. Here's the key point:

It possible to ask any belief system something like the following: even though I cannot change your mind about X, can you tell me what conditions would have to be met in order for you to consider changing your mind about X?

This meta-question does not produce (or expect) consensus, but it does attempt to make the grounds of dissensus intelligible. In this way it manages to uphold the values of reciprocal communication without seeking to guarantee that the goal of reciprocal communication will be a form of reciprocal understanding that leads to agreement....

When two people disagree about proposition X, they may not immediately agree to disagree, but they may find the discursive grounds on which to make themselves intelligible to the other, and they may, in the process, discover the grounds on which to make intelligible any further appeal to what the other person considers a plausible reason for reconsidering his (or her) position. (232-233, 235)

So, yeah, even if the differences between Nancy Zimpher's and Phil Smith's belief systems are incommensurable, there's still a role for the UFS to play in this Lyotard-esque situation. But this may yet end up being one of those Habermasian encounters where communication leads to understanding which leads to agreement. I believe it's important to find out where we stand. If it's the latter, great. If it's the former, and Berube's dialogue-continuing questions don't resolve the impasse, then we're back to knives out: infowars for the hearts and minds of New York state citizens, taxpayers, and their elected officials.

So let's identify some of the core issues, principles, and values at stake and in play in the PHEE&IA debates. And let's advocate for what we think is right for SUNY and New Yorkers. Let's try to bring both competing parties over to our side, find principled compromises when possible, and separate controversial from non-controversial parts of the PHEE&IA out when not. Let's take advantage of the fact that both the SUNY and UUP leadership need us to legitimize their positions and try to get them both to rethink key aspects of theirs.

How about the tuition question? Here's my position in a nutshell:

  • SUNY is trying to resolve the dispute over whether the state's ceding of control over tuition to the SUNY Board of Trustees provides cover for the state to renege on its commitment to support the SUNY mission by addressing UUP's concerns in its draft Comprehensive Tuition Policy. This simply will not do. What's to stop the BOT from changing its policy once the bill is passed? No, SUNY has to sit down with UUP and negotiate amendments to Subpart A of the PHEE&IA itself, then jointly propose them to legislators on the relevant state Assembly and Senate committees. And in so doing it has to clarify the relationship between language in the bill and in the policy.
  • If SUNY is unwilling to do this, then they have another alternative that might win UUP's support. (And if they are willing to do the above, they should be willing to do what follows, too.) Within their tuition policy, they need to revise the membership of their state-wide "Working Group" to include representatives from UUP's state-wide leadership and ensure that members of the "Executive Committee/Chancellor's Cabinet" in this group come from state-wide leadership in the Student Assembly, UFS, and Faculty Council of Community Colleges. Similarly, they need to make much more robust the notion of "consultation with campus constituencies" for any campus-initiated STR proposals--rather than the administration consulting with student government and whoever else they please, rewrite the policy to require that any STR proposal first go through a campus governance process, then go through a labor-management process, then go before the student government, and finally reach the college council. Only this will ensure a proper balance between the sometimes competing values of quality and access, an effective synthesis of the highest quality with the greatest access.
  • Alternatively, SUNY might give up on a "special tuition rate" entirely--in both the bill and their policy--because of objections and concerns raised by UUP, students, and certain sectors within SUNY. Focus on what they can get this time, which is control, ending the tuition tax, and a rational tuition policy. But I still think they'll need a combination of all three of my alternatives to win a truce from UUP. And that truce is crucial to winning legislative support.
  • If that's not enough, propose some version of the new system envisioned by the PHEE&IA as a pilot, to be embarked upon for a set time (say, 5 years), the results of which are to be compared jointly by SUNY, UUP, UFS, and SA with (say) the 1990-2010 period, and presented to the BOT, DOB, GOER, and relevant committees in both houses of the legislature, all as part of a process by which the state crafts revisions to the laws governing SUNY.
My points about Subpart B (joint ventures that involve public-private partnerships, land leases, or the like) are roughly parallel to those on Subpart A. Through a combination of revisions to the PHEE&IA itself and to the draft Comprehensive Asset Management Policy, SUNY ought to clarify that all new employees hired in such ventures are public employees and pledge to hiring only union workers, commit itself to the highest sustainability standards, and ensure that at both the campus level and the state-wide "Working Group" level, all proposals are shaped and approved, or evaluated, by leaders of all relevant constituencies--student government, faculty governance, and faculty-professional and other unions, along with administrative leaders and college councils/BOT. Only this will ensure proper levels of transparency and accountability, even before approval is sought from an asset maximization board (either the existing state one or the new state university one that would be created by pages 62-64 of the PHEE&IA), much less reporting is done to the BOT or post-audits are done by the state of NY.

And without going into any details at all on the other provisions of the PHEE&IA, let me just state baldly that the key to solving any remaining disputes can be found in the preceding paragraphs, as well as in the next few.

What I want to see from SUNY leadership, in short, is a commitment to doing everything in their power to convince all concerned parties that the system and the campuses are prepared to handle the responsibility and take advantage of the opportunities the PHEE&IA would grant it. The key part of that commitment is being open to amendments to the PHEE&IA and revisions to their draft policies that enshrine such principles as collaboration across constituencies and organizations within SUNY, power-sharing from day one and ground zero across SUNY, and robust checks and balances on all involved. If this happens, I'm ok with the fact that many things would still have to be worked out in practice. Because ultimately that experience of working together in a common cause, treating disagreements as a normal condition to be addressed openly and frankly at all levels of decision-making (not as treason or disloyalty), and trying to develop revenue streams that enhance the educational, research, and service missions of SUNY without providing rationales for further cuts in state support is all preparation, to my mind, of the larger state-wide, national, and even international consideration of the following questions that SUNY can take the lead on: namely, why public universities ought to continue to exist in the 21st century and beyond, how their roles, functions, and uses ought to be defined, what their value is (in non-economic as well as economic terms), and where their financing should come from. If all of us concerned about the future of SUNY and of public higher education were to systematically revisit these fundamental questions, consider why traditional answers to them have been losing support from citizens, taxpayers, and politicians (among others), and develop new, more compelling, answers (when needed), then we might find ways of moving out of crisis mode and into growth mode. If we can't even commit to this much, what hope is there of anyone else doing it for us?

Let's be real here: the PHEE&IA is neither panacea nor Pandora's box. Neither the best-case not worst-case scenarios for its potential impact seem very convincing. It only works as a piece of a much-larger puzzle, the other pieces of which are still being assembled as I write. So, yeah, let's all hit the reset button, roll up our sleeves, join in the assembly process, and get to work. Let's treat the people of New York as adults and level with them. Let's demand more of our elected representatives, intellectually and politically. Let's put an end to Albany-politics-as-usual. Let's call UUP's many bluffs, focus on the substantive issues, and see if we can't build bridges across what may seem at first glance to be gaping chasms.

Obviously, Ken O'Brien has to be a lot more diplomatic than I'm being here. But if he's able to state, calmly and clearly, what UFS leadership needs to see happen before it will offer its support to the PHEE&IA, and patiently explain the rationale for that provisional, qualified support to anyone and everyone who will listen, he and his colleagues may be able to help achieve what may seem unimaginable to many New Yorkers right now.

[Update 1 (3/18/10, 2:24 pm): Good job interviewing Nancy Zimpher by a U of Albany journalism class.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Do the Faculty and Staff at SUNY Fredonia Think of the Empowerment Act?

With the University Faculty Senate conference call only a few hours away, I've been thinking about how best to pass along the gist of what my colleagues at SUNY Fredonia have been telling me in response to the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA). I haven't gotten a huge volume of feedback just yet, but what I can do is pass along the key ideas/themes in what I've been hearing, along with the number of people who have voiced them and representative paraphrases/quotations from my respondents. At the risk of misrepresenting the vehemence of support for the PHEE&IA as it is or with certain amendments, I'll turn the ideas/themes I'm hearing into questions, so as to further preserve their anonymity, and rank them by how often they were aired.

1. Should we support the PHEE&IA as it is, oppose it, or propose amendments to it? (9)

5 favor supporting it as is.
1 favors amending and supporting it.
2 favor opposing it.
1 is on the fence until after Phil Smith's visit to campus on March 24th.

2. Can we live with the consequences if the PHEE&IA doesn't become law? (6)

This breaks down into several related questions:

(a) how will the New York state government treat SUNY?

One of my colleagues talked to Jack Quinn (co-sponsor of UB 2020), who pointed out that Medicaid and P-12 will also need massive amounts of state support just to avoid draconian cuts when federal stimulus funds run out, and came away worried that SUNY is low on the totem pole compared to other worthy state programs.

"I suspect we will be in deep trouble when the federal stimulus money runs out. Ironically, if the Legislature had agreed to small incremental tuition increases ten years ago, we would not be in this situation. The Governor's tax on tuition was unprecedented and has deeply troubled students and faculty alike."

(b) what will be the effect on campuses, programs, employees?

"[I]f the act doesn't go through, academic programs will be cut to make up for the budget shortfall. That means loss of faculty jobs and secretarial jobs. It will mean (likely) fewer students which will be less money coming from [on-campus revenue generators like the book store, food service, and dormitories]. The domino effect is frightening...."

(c) what will be the effect on students?

If the expected cuts to campuses, programs, and employees go into effect, it'll become more difficult for students to graduate on time, which will mean they'll pay more tuition, anyway.

(d) what will be the effect on planning?

"I have worked in five states at great universities, and SUNY could be among the greatest. However, the system has been politicized and weakened by the inability to plan and implement innovative programs. Something must change soon."

3. When the state-wide leadership of UUP opposes the PHEE&IA, how well are they representing their members? (5)

This breaks down into several related questions:

(a) procedural: how did UUP's leadership arrive at their position? did they consult with local chapter leaders? did they seek input or feedback from delegates before the winter Delegate Assembly? did they give delegates time to consult the members they represent?

(b) content-based (representation as reflection, speaking as): do UUP's ad and advocacy campaigns represent their members' views on the PHEE&IA? do they present a persuasive case to oppose the PHEE&IA?

"The commercials that give the doom and gloom outlook of tuition getting beyond the reach of families fail to mention the LACK of tuition increase for how many years? That the miniscule plan developed two years ago went almost entirely to the state and NOT back to the campuses."

"The misleading television advertisements had NOTHING to do with representation of the membership, but are making political statements I find offensive, purposefully misleading and loaded with misinformation."

"I think this is one of the most important issues facing us and the rest of the SUNY system. I don't feel the UUP is right in this and it seems like the UFS is trying to be the voice of reason. I've had extensive experience with unions in my past career and I think the UUP as a whole feels threatened. They make good points but something has to be done, and the only solution I have seen from the UUP is to restore funding to past levels. It just ain't gonna happen, plain and simple. Especially once the stimulus money dries up."

(c) interest-based (representation as delegation, speaking for): is UUP leadership really acting with its members' best interests in mind?

"Union supporter or not, how someone can say a union is looking out for our interests as union members when programs will be cut which will mean loss of jobs, and union dues, is beyond me."

"I've heard a suspicion that UUP opposes the Empowerment Act because it may have a negative effect on the hospitals. If that's true, then UUP is doing the colleges a major disservice and is not representing us at all properly."

"And how, on God's green earth, when retrenchments start to happen and layoffs and all the rest, does the union justify their anti-employment stance? If members lose jobs because of their truculence and unwillingness to get out of the 'them/us' mentality, we are all going to lose, future generations most of all."


So that's it, so far. I'll add to this (and note updates below) as more comments come in.

[Update 1 (12:27 pm): In the interests of fairness, here's what I just received from UUP in Albany this morning:

Keep up the pressure: PHEEIA not a panacea

UUPers are succeeding in convincing lawmakers, colleagues, students and community members that further budget cuts and flexibility without oversight will cause SUNY more harm than good.

But we can't stop yet.

Despite signs that lawmakers are beginning to see the problems inherent in the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA), SUNY administrators are relentless in billing the flex legislation as a solution to New York's economic woes and as a way to strengthen public higher education. SUNY has expended a great deal of time and money in an all-out effort to sell PHEEIA as a panacea.

The union is fighting back.

In addition to statewide efforts to convince the powers-that-be to reject PHEEIA, UUP is asking chapters to step up their efforts to educate everyone on the facts of this ill-conceived legislation. And everyone means everyone. Don't assume that your colleagues or your students understand UUP's position.

Ask your students: Do you realize tuition could skyrocket? Chances are, they've seen SUNY's eye-catching propaganda and have been reeled in hook, line and sinker.

Ask your colleagues: Do you really believe SUNY will act in your best interests if your campus is able to enter into public/private partnerships without legislative oversight?

If you're looking for ideas on how to proceed, follow the lead of the UUP chapters at Albany, Farmingdale, Plattsburgh and New Paltz. Here’s what they’re doing:

• On March 18 at UAlbany, UUPers are hosting a forum on "A Progressive Vision of SUNY’s Future: Alternatives to PHEEIA." Presenters are UUP President Phil Smith and Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. The program is from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Campus Center, Room 375.

• New Paltz UUPers, along with NYPIRG, students and community members, are rallying at noon March 24 in the Humanities Concourse to protest SUNY budget cuts and tuition increases.

• Plattsburgh Chapter President Dave Curry was a panelist during a PHEEIA forum sponsored by the campus Student Association. Curry faced off against John Homburger, VP for administration and business affairs.

• Farmingdale has distributed fliers that direct people to, left.

What else can I do?

• Reprint UUP ads in chapter newsletters or post them to chapter Web sites. The ads are available on UUP LeaderNet or from the union’s Communications Department.

• Keep the faxes coming. Tell family, friends, colleagues and students to get the facts on PHEEIA and budget cuts and encourage them to send letters to lawmakers by going to The letters can also be found at

• Share the union's recommendations for revenue enhancements to help overcome New York’s fiscal crisis. Working in coalition with A Better Choice for New York, UUP and other labor and community groups crafted viable alternatives to spending cuts. For more details and an easy-to-read handout to share with lawmakers, go to

• Urge your members to take part in advocacy days in Albany. Coming up are NYSUT's Committee of 100 on March 16, and UUP Constituency Group Advocacy Day on March 23.

• Schedule visits with lawmakers in their district offices. Contact the union's Legislation and Communications departments if you need assistance or materials.


No time for a comment.]

[Update 2 (3:05 pm): Updated the numbers above. Got a very thoughtful comment from a colleague that's better to quote at length:

1. Of the 4 choices given I would have to favor opposing it. I would support something that was crafted jointly between SUNY, GOER, and UUP. However, I do not think that qualifies as favoring amending and supporting the act. I think, like we did locally with the personnel policies, the initial proposal could be considered but that this process needs to start over and happen with all parties represented from the beginning. SUNY and the Governor should not be striking back room deals. Proper protocol should be followed and basic things like involving all stakeholders from the beginning should be observed.

2. Yes.

2.a. The state already treats SUNY like the red-headed stepchild. SUNY gets cut the most and more frequently than even CUNY and the SUNY Community Colleges and certainly before Corrections or other areas of the budget. The PHEEIA will not change that, even if it becomes law. The only way to fix this problem is to remove the anti-SUNY Governor we currently have, along with any anti-SUNY legislators and anti-SUNY SUNY Board members, and get people in power positions who understand the value of a strong public higher education system outside of NYC.

2.b. Even if the PHEEIA becomes law it will not magically make money fall from the sky. It is naïve to think that the state will continue to provide funding to SUNY, even at its current low levels, if SUNY retains all of its tuition dollars. The tuition that SUNY pulls in will not be able to pay the bills either. Cuts will continue to happen.

2.c. See the answer to 2.b. These cuts will affect students' ability to graduate in four years. More troubling is that if the PHEEIA passes, economically disadvantaged people may be priced out of the higher education market completely.

2.d. Those doing the planning should understand the rules and procedures in place and play by the rules. The PHEEIA is simply those people saying I don’t understand the rules, I can’t be bothered trying to learn them, so here are rules I want to follow. It is irresponsible to do this. Any entry- to mid-level employee who refused to follow procedure and instead created their own rules would quickly be replaced. Why is it OK for the SUNY elite to collect their giant salaries while gutting the NYS public higher education system?

The 31 SUNY Presidents plus Chancellor Zimpher collectively earned $7,701,228.15 according to 2009 payroll data from If SUNY is hurting so bad for money why don’t these elite earn a regular salary (capped at $150,000 perhaps?), and maybe even pay rent to live in the State owned properties and other perks they have access to, instead of threatening to cut the jobs of the common people? Capping the salaries of just that small number of elites at $150,000 would save almost 3 million dollars annually. Why hasn’t that proposal come forward? Capping dean’s salaries at $100,000 would save more than 6 million dollars annually considering the 146 deans listed on SeeThroughNY. Similarly, capping the VP salaries at $125,000 would save almost 7 million dollars annually of the 116 VPs listed. Where are the proposals to cut from the SUNY administration? Let’s retrench the deans and VPs alongside the faculty.

3. Of those who are informed of all of the issues, I would say pretty well. Of those who want to trust the SUNY administration blindly, or who are pushing a privatization agenda, probably poorly.

3.a. I would counter with a question: How did the SUNY elite and the Governor arrive at the PHEEIA? Did they consult the citizens of NY? Did they consult the employees of SUNY? Did they consult the unions representing the employees of SUNY? Did they consult the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations?

3.b. Do the SUNY pro-PHEEIA ads and anti-union propaganda represent the views of NYS citizens? Do they present a persuasive case to support the PHEEIA? The SUNY elite are acting like the spoiled child who when things aren’t going their way takes their ball and goes home. If they don’t get their way (passing the PHEEIA) they will take their ball (jobs) and go home. The SUNY elite need to understand that a public higher education institution is a PUBLIC institution, not a private one. If they want to work for a private institution they should apply at one, not try to gut SUNY and turn it into a private institution.

3.c. Are the SUNY elite really acting with NYS citizens' best interests in mind? Remember, the poor and disadvantaged are citizens just like the wealthy and privileged. This argument is falling along class lines, with the SUNY elite wanting to become more elite and the union trying to keep SUNY a public institution. We are allowing a few highly-paid people to lay the groundwork for removing the one chance at social-economic advancement that many NYS citizens have. Pretty soon the only place the poor and disadvantaged of NY will be able to go is to prison. Maybe some people don’t have a problem with that, but I do.

I agree that something needs to be done and that we can’t just expect money to come falling from the sky. However, whatever proposal that comes forth must be a product of at least three groups working collaboratively from the beginning: SUNY, the unions representing SUNY employees, and the GOER.

Keep those comments coming!]