Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Middlesex Matters

John Protevi explains. If SUNY is forced by Sheldon Silver, David Paterson, and the rest of NY's political elite into layoffs and retrenchments, we're all going to need to become familiar with arguments like Protevi's and organize like the Middlesex students and faculty in Philosophy have done--preferably before the cuts have been decided on, rather than after. Looks like campus governance bodies and leaders will have to be particularly vigilant and active this summer.

[Update 1 (2:15 pm): Bob Samuels shows that at UCLA, coalitions between faculty and students, public protests and demonstrations, and alternative forums have made a big difference.]

[Update 2 (3:23 pm): Michael Meranze shines the spotlight on the Governator's budget proposal, demonstrating why those of us in public universities need to understand the big picture.]

[Update 3 (3:49 pm): I don't share Harry's confidence over at Crooked Timber that already-partially-privatized public universities in the U.S. are therefore insulated from what's going on in their more government-dependent counterparts in the UK.]

[Update 4 (3:53 pm): For more on Middlesex, check out Infinite Thought (thanks to one of Harry's commenters for the tip!).]

[Update 5 (3:58 pm): Interesting that elite universities in the UK are demanding the power to set their own fees--sounds like what SUNY's been up to lately. Here's my own basic take on the proper relationship between the state and the state university. Here's a sequel.]

[Update 6 (5/19/10, 2:23 pm): Must-read by Christopher Newfield in the new Academe.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Question for SUNY Campuses: Since Albany Profits from the Current System, Why Retain Lobbyists?

Let's see: SUNY is looking for more autonomy from Albany, so System Administration spends $600K to lobby lawmakers while individual SUNY campuses spend at least another $1M on hired guns. Let's hope this is a temporary state of affairs. Look for these costs to go up if key measures from the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act are not passed in this year's budget, however. Which may actually be what the state government wants. Maybe it's time to stop feeding the beast!

[Update 1 (10:17 am): If anyone can get me a full-text version of this May 2010 Harper's article on the ingrained corruption in Albany, I'd really appreciate it!]

Friday, May 14, 2010

How Colorado Is Different from New York

Quick Citizen SE take on Doug Lederman's story at Inside Higher Ed on the decision by the Colorado legislature to grant state colleges and universities tuition and other flexibilities to help them survive a potential 50% cut in state support for public higher education.

Here's Lederman's summary:

Under the plan, which is designed to last for five years, each institution would by November submit a plan for how it would deal with a 50 percent reduction in its current allocation of state funds. (The Colorado Commission on Higher Education would take those plans into consideration in framing its budget request for the 2011-12 fiscal year.) In exchange, individual universities would, beginning in 2011-12, be allowed to increase their tuition by up to 9 percent a year with no restrictions, but would need approval from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to exceed that level.

Colleges would continue to be required to have at least two-thirds of their students be Coloradans, with one major exception: International students would no longer count as out-of-state students from an enrollment perspective under such a calculation, and the foreign-born could make up as much as 12 percent of a campus's students, up from the current 4 percent. (Foreign students would, of course, continue to pay out-of-state tuition rates, so campuses that added significant numbers of international students could significantly increase their tuition revenue.)

Lastly, the state commission would no longer require institutions that stay under the 9 percent limit on tuition increases to ensure that they dedicate a portion of their revenues to need-based financial aid; instead, each campus would be responsible for ensuring that it provides sufficient financial aid to remain affordable.

Obviously this is similar in some ways to the decision facing New York's political elites with regard to funding SUNY and CUNY and the debates over the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA), but from a quick read of Lederman's article, I'd suggest the differences may end up being more important. Namely:

(1) It appears that differential tuition is already in place in the University of Colorado system, with their flagship already charging higher tuition than other campuses and already relying less on state funds to cover its operating costs. Tuition is the same across SUNY, despite the vastly different locations (and costs of living) and missions (and costs of operation) across the system. This means that more state support on average goes to doctorals and downstate campuses in New York, whereas in Colorado, it's the less wealthy institutions that get more state support--and thus stand to lose more, since they can't raise tuition much without jeopardizing enrollment yields and will have to do more tuition discounting (via financial aid) than places like Boulder.

(2) There seems to be much less organized opposition to the Colorado legislation than the PHEE&IA has faced in New York. Lederman notes that "Even an organization that has generally opposed Colorado's drift away from public funding of higher education and toward a high-tuition, high financial aid model offered its backing for the legislation this month," quoting Frank Waterous, a senior policy analyst at the Bell Policy Center--"we reluctantly view limited tuition flexibility as the lesser of two policy evils" (the other being "the very real threat of program and service reductions or institutional closures"). Why this is remains an open question. Is Colorado's political culture less dysfunctional than NY? More willing to plan for worst-case scenarios? Are Colorado's higher education unions more fearful of losing their jobs or their campuses?

(3) With SUNY's Chancellor Nancy Zimpher in charge of the system for almost twice as long as Rico Munn, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, has been on board, the SUNY strategic plan is complete while the Colorado strategic planning process is just getting off the ground. So whereas both systems have seen plenty of turnover in recent years--Lederman points out that the state's key body on higher education, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, "has had four executive directors in six years"--SUNY may actually have more stability than its counterparts in Colorado, and CUNY has much more.

(4) Even though critics of the Colorado plan are already worrying about its potential impacts on access, affordability, and college completion, the situation seems a lot less polarized there than here in NY. Whereas Munn is soft-pedaling the impact of the legislation--"Nobody sees this as a solution. It's a short-term fix trying to address the significant budget issues we're facing"--Zimpher continues to peddle PHEE&IA as the best thing since sliced bread and UUP President Phil Smith continues to put it down as the worst thing since the plague. Both sides seem hunkered down for a long fight that looks to continue well past this year's budget battle. While Zimpher emphasizes that SUNY and UUP share the same goals, but differ over the means, Chief Financial Officer Monica Rimai preaches the value of persistence and persuasion.

No big conclusion. Just wanted to throw a quick take out there and see what people think!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More Shots Fired from Wild Western NY

Although I disagree with my State Senator Cathy Young's closing remarks in her recent attack on New York's political leadership, I heartily endorse the following charges:

Common sense spending cuts can be made, waste can be rooted out, and structural changes can be made to the state budget, if there are open, transparent discussions and negotiations.

Shockingly, that dialogue is not taking place, because New York City-beholden politicians who currently control the agenda in Albany are violating the law by not holding open Conference Committees and passing the state budget.

The state budget now is several weeks late, yet no meaningful budget talks are underway because downstate Senators and Assembly Members who dictate the agenda refuse to meet in public, if at all.

In the meantime, taxes, spending and borrowing are spinning out of control, hitting struggling taxpayers hard, and driving more people and jobs out of the state.

Sorely-needed road construction projects that would jump start the economy are stalled. Schools are laying off teachers. State workers are [in danger of] being furloughed, throwing state government further into chaos.

Despite an unprecedented fiscal crisis and the threat of running out of cash by June if action isn't taken, those who currently control Albany continue to fail to lead.

Preach it, sister!

The reality is that Governor Paterson and New York City-controlled majorities in both the Senate and Assembly are fiddling while the state burns.

Instead of following the budget reform laws of 2007 that require bipartisan Conference Committees to be convened to hammer out the budget in public, these so-called leaders are stalling by sticking their heads in the sand, hoping against hope that they will wake up one morning and the $9.3 billion budget deficit will have magically disappeared.

It doesn't work that way.

Passing budget extenders to pay the bills week-to-week instead of tackling the tough decisions only is making the problem worse.

Conference Committees worked in 2007 and 2008 to pass on-time budgets. Our taxpayers need open discussions about solutions.

Every person in our state is affected by the state budget, whether they pay taxes, send their kids to school, drive on a road or bridge, or need hospital or nursing home care. The people have a right to know what their government is doing.

They also have a right to expect that their government will get the job done.

It's not just going to take a revolution at the voting booth to fix New York politics. We need more rank-and-file legislators to stand up for their constituents and what's right for New York by standing up to their leadership. I'll even accept Young's stumping for the Republican minority right now if it results in an unleashing of the Conference Committees. If 3 men in a room can't come to an agreement, it's time to put our trust in the dozens of men and women who have experience working together and hashing out their differences. At least let them do their work and bring a proposal to their leadership, rather than sitting on the sidelines, shut out of the process!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NY Public Employee Furloughs Blocked: What Next?

The New York Daily News and the AP are reporting that Governor Patterson's plan to furlough over 100,000 state workers is on hold until May 26th, following a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn. The state and the public employee unions now have two weeks to prepare their cases for and against furloughs. For more, see the Capitol Confidential blog. Here's UUP's announcement of their lawsuit and other legal actions to stop the furloughs, along with President Phil Smith's reaction to the temporary restraining order.

As a public employee and proud UUP activist, I'm pleased that I'll be able to finish my grading uninterrupted. But I'm also wondering what's coming next. Lt. Gov. Ravitch has threatened that no furloughs = layoffs, but that would mean going back on a no-2010-layoffs pledge the Governor made in exchange for union acquiescence on a new, lower tier in the state employees' pension plan (for new employees, of course). Under the UUP contract, which expires next July, many of those new employees would be the first to be fired if SUNY is forced into retrenchments by the state of New York.

I'm wondering if UUP shouldn't consider re-opening negotiations, with an eye toward stretching our last scheduled pay increase over several years and strengthening the provisions affecting retrenchments--if not with this Governor, then with the next one, who could perhaps be enticed into a no-layoffs-in-2011 pledge. It's very unlikely that either side would want to move at all quickly when it comes to negotiating the next contract--the Governor's office because salaries would be frozen in the absence of a new agreement and the union leadership because they would want to avoid even the prospect of salary decreases or minimal increases, which would be very likely if the state's finances are even worse next year than this year. From my perspective, opening negotiations on the current contract could lead to a win-win, in that doing so would help out the state in a terrible budget year (and hopefully turn down the heat on the union-bashing from the Governor's office), while guaranteeing my colleagues and me some kind of pay increases after the 2010-2011 academic year. If some of the savings could be devoted to actually hiring new full-time faculty, instead of being thrown into the budget black hole, I'd be even happier. In fact, I'd give up pay raises for three years if all the savings were devoted to a huge hiring push from SUNY and NY.

Unfortunately, this Governor has nothing to lose and no trust (to say the least) with or from New York's union leaders. Where that leaves the state budget and SUNY is an open question.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Speaking of CICU....

That's the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities--and guess who's been their President since last July 16th? Why, New York State's own former Director of Budget, Laura Anglin, that's who!

Some key quotes from last year's CICU press release:

"In Laura Anglin, the search committee found a talented and skilled professional with two decades' experience in important positions in the state government, a deep knowledge of the state’s budget process, and an appreciation of how to advance policies through consensus building and broad outreach to many constituencies," said John Sexton, the chair of CICU's Board of Trustees and its presidential search committee, and president of New York University.

"Beyond all this, Laura displayed an eagerness to focus on the needs and goals of independent education in New York State, recognizing the importance of this sector to the future of our state. Abe Lackman positioned CICU as one of the most important voices in higher education policy, both in Albany and in Washington, DC. We are confident Laura will continue this important trajectory," President Sexton added.

Laura Anglin said, "New York's private colleges and universities have historically played an important role in the economic and social well being of New York--and they will be essential partners for helping to rebuild New York State's economy for the future. I am grateful for the opportunity to help further the mission of the Independent Sector during these challenging times."

Anglin was Director of Budget Services for the Assembly majority (under Sheldon Silver, who can speak passionately for TAP and HEOP but not for SUNY), just as her predecessor played a similar role in Joseph Bruno's Senate.

With the post-Anglin DOB firmly behind the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act and the Anglin-era CICU lobbying against it, who do you think Sheldon Silver is going to listen to? When Columbia and NYU are both planning to expand in New York City, now would be a pretty bad time for SUNY to become better able to compete with NY's privates, wouldn't it?

Monday, May 03, 2010

When It Comes to Supporting SUNY, Who Does Sheldon Silver Really Listen To?

Check out the report from Tom Precious of the Buffalo News that a Democratic member of the Assembly, Mark J.F. Schroeder, is attacking Sheldon Silver for backing out on a deal and blocking a vote on the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act:

Schroeder, a Buffalo Democrat, said Silver told members of the Western New York delegation last year that if they could win SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher's support for the effort [on behalf of UB2020], the Assembly would pass the bill.

Zimpher has since signed on.

"He said, 'Get the new chancellor's support, and we got a deal,' and it never happened," Schroeder said Wednesday in an interview.

"The current obstruction in the Assembly majority conference is a misguided power play," Schroeder said in a recent letter to Silver.

More than 40 Democrats have pledged to support the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, he said, and Republicans have told him they can provide 38 votes--enough to pass the legislation if brought to the floor.

Silver and other Democrats from New York City oppose the measure, which will largely help the upstate-based SUNY system, Schroeder said.

Buffalo News columnist Douglas Johnson explores why the post-Census reapportionment of New York's Congressional districts places so much power in Silver's hands. His parting shot at Silver's "embrace of public employee union dominance" seems gratuitous, however. The public opposition of UUP and other unions to PHEE&IA provides political cover to those already opposed to SUNY's growth. As the contributors to SUNY at 60 have shown, the NYS Board of Regents and State Education Department have long been colonized by New York's private colleges and universities. We've already seen the Regents take such a swipe at SUNY that the former president of Columbia Teacher's College thought it was unfair. Well, it should come as no surprise that the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities is lobbying against PHEE&IA. Joan Hinde Stewart the excellent president of Hamilton College, my alma mater, is an at-large member of the CICU Board of Trustees.

A professor at NC State for 26 years, Stewart needs no lecturing on the value of public higher education or the opportunities it provides to its students--and to the alumni of private colleges and universities. I'll be writing her an open letter soon, but I wonder how much Columbia and NYU have to do with Silver's opposition even to the parts of the PHEE&IA that UUP President Phil Smith specifically lent his support to?

[Update 1 (1:09 pm): Here's another Buffalo News broadside at Silver.]