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CONTACT: Don Feldstein or
Mike Lisi (518) 640-6600
Feldstein’s cell number is (518) 461-0275

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 23, 2010

COALITION OF SUNY ALBANY STUDENTS & FACULTY CALL ON  
NYS SENATE TO SAY NO TO SUNY EMPOWERMENT ACT!


(ALBANY) – As the NYS Legislature is rapidly approaching the final days of budget talks, a broad coalition of students, faculty, and staff at SUNY Albany will be calling, faxing, and emailing the New York State Senate this week demanding that it vote down the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA). The Act raises a number of concerns about accountability, collective bargaining agreements, tuition hikes, and the future role of the State University.

“This act could effectively dismantle SUNY, America’s largest public university system,” said Professor Lawrence Wittner, Professor of History at SUNY Albany. “The act would enable New York State to walk away from its obligation to fund public higher education and usher in a struggle for survival among individual campuses.”

The act proposes Tuition Indexing and Differential Tuition, which—by dramatically hiking costs for attending the university—would effectively deprive many students of an education. Tuition indexing mandates tuition increases every year. Increases would be based around the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI), but could be up to 2.5 times higher than HEPI. The act also proposes differential tuition, or charging different tuition depending on the program or school. This could mean that popular or higher quality programs would be accessible only to those who could afford them.

“PHEEIA is a short-sighted attempt to take a large expense off the state's hands in an effort to close the budget gap.” argued Nick Partyka, a Doctoral Student at SUNY Albany. “This act will only empower SUNY to price many New York students out of an education. The long-term consequences for New York State are far worse if this bill is passed.”

“We cannot allow what’s happening at the state colleges in California to happen here in New York,” said Phillip H. Smith, president of United University Professions. “If this act is approved, SUNY students will face the same dilemma as their counterparts in California, where flexibility was given to university officials prompting the state to withdraw over a billion dollars in financial support. New York would proceed down the same disastrous road by allowing the state to abdicate its responsibility to properly fund and oversee its public higher education institutions."  

Currently, the NYS Legislature makes the major decisions about SUNY's budget, including when to raise tuition and how much to raise it. Under PHEEIA, such decisions would be taken out of the hands of officials who are accountable to the public.  Furthermore, PHEEIA would authorize SUNY to deposit its revenues outside the State Treasury and would eliminate any approval of contracts for services by the State Comptroller and Attorney General, thereby further eroding accountability to the state and to the public.

“We stand to lose accountability with this Act,” said Colin Donnaruma, a Doctoral Student at SUNY Albany. “There are already countless examples of administrative abuses when SUNY has been allowed to operate outside public scrutiny—abuses that have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.”

PHEEIA could also negatively impact independent research carried out at SUNY.  By moving in the direction of relying on the private sector to fund research and other costs, PHEEIA will enable private interests to heavily affect and shape research and other practices at SUNY.  

“As a researcher, I’m deeply concerned with how private dollars will impact the direction of research at SUNY. Our research agenda should be dictated by public concerns and the public interest, not by private companies, pursuing their own self-interest,” said Jackie Hayes, Research Assistant at SUNY Albany. 

The coalition will be targeting the New York State Senate this week and next. 

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.

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