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October 26, 2011

UUP: SUNY emphasis shifting from academics

The State University of New York is gradually shifting its emphasis away from academics and more toward economic development, a trend clearly evident in the so-called NYSUNY 2020 plan, according to the head of the union representing SUNY’s academic and professional faculty.

“It is becoming disturbingly evident that the University has lost sight of why it was created – to graduate productive students who can contribute to the state’s overall economy and culture,” United University Professions President Phillip H. Smith testified during a public hearing in Albany conducted by the state Assembly Higher Education Committee. “The University heralds the formation of partnerships with private sector companies. We hear phrases such as joint ventures and economic engines. We hear very little about a reaffirmation of the University’s original and, until lately, historical emphasis on teaching and learning.”

Smith made it clear that UUP recognizes the need to improve the state’s economic competitiveness and SUNY’s contribution toward achieving that goal, but not at the cost of sacrificing educational training as SUNY’s top priority.

Smith told lawmakers that the only thing NYSUNY 2020 can deliver from its plans at SUNY’s four University Centers is more than $700 million in new building construction, of which only $80 million would come from the state. Smith contends that falls far short of an economic revitalization strategy.

“We do not believe that the building construction contemplated in the NYSUNY 2020 proposals produces long-lasting economic development in the truest sense,” he said.

Smith also questioned how such construction projects would be financed, with some of the funding coming from the University’s operating budget. He said these operating revenues should not be used, either directly or indirectly, to fill gaps caused by the need to fund construction projects, which historically have been fully financed by the state.

Smith also said the state needs to provide additional aid for lower-income students struggling to pay for higher tuition through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), instead of having SUNY make up the difference that TAP is not paying.

“While the state’s long-standing obligation to fund aid for SUNY and CUNY students under TAP will likely be capped for the foreseeable future … the University has taken on new funding obligations that require the diversion of resources needed to support its academic mission,” he said.

Smith took the opportunity to thank lawmakers for protecting students and UUP members by eliminating the worst features of the original NYSUNY 2020 legislation, including differential tuition, authority that would given SUNY the power to unilaterally sell or lease its property, and letting SUNY enter into public/private partnerships without legislative oversight.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 37,000 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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