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May 25, 2011

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Message from the President


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The so-called New York SUNY2020 plan proposed by the University at Buffalo, in concert with the Governor’ s office, is long on rhetoric, but very short on details. We have yet to see plans from Stony Brook, Albany and Binghamton. We should assume, for now, that the projects, construction financing and tuition transactions to be proposed by those plans will mirror the UB proposal in many respects—thus containing similar concerns for our students, our membership and the University itself.

Here is what we know so far about the plan proposed by UB. It is based on an unverified assertion by UB that implementation of its plan will greatly enhance economic development in Western New York. While no one disputes the need for economic improvement in that and other regions of the State, all this plan really promises or can assure us is that existing medical facilities will be moved from one location to another. That’ s not economic development in the truest sense. It is simply a classic example of how rhetoric can blur the real facts.

Several years ago, when UB2020 was first proposed, one of UUP’ s major concerns was that the legislation would provide an excuse for the State to walk away from its responsibility to properly fund the State University. You all know that the state-operated campuses have lost $700 million in annual State support— just over the past three years. The current UB proposal proves that our initial concern that New York wishes to shift funding from the State to the students to have been right on the mark.

UB will partially fund the construction of facilities contemplated in its plan through bonds financed, in part, by tuition increases of 8% annually levied on undergraduate UB students. Fees for medical students will also be raised significantly. UUP supports a rational tuition program for the entire State University. Unfortunately, UB’ s plan is not rational; not for the students, not for the faculty and not for the University itself.

By dedicating tuition and other resources available to its campus and by seeking tuition and fee increases for the implementation of its plan, UB leadership has made it abundantly clear that buildings are far more important than students. Those resources, including tuition from a rationally based policy of annual increases, could have helped to partially offset the devastating and cumulative impact on UB of recent reductions in State support. Instead, UB has chosen to use its resources and to seek tuition and fee increases to help its private partners. Apparently, UB does not consider either its academic mission or its students its highest priority.

By accepting responsibility for funding what would otherwise be a State financed building complex, UB and SUNY Administration have set the stage for the subsequent withdrawal of State supported construction for Stony Brook, Albany, Binghamton and, eventually, the rest of the System. SUNY’ s acquiescence of this obviously gubernatorially inspired approach is a critical mistake.

Although UB intends to implement a modest financial aid program to partially offset the impact of excessive tuition and fee increases, the State, not the University should support that financial aid through its State funded Tuition Assistance Program. All the University will accomplish here is to relieve the State of its historic responsibility to provide financial aid for lower income students and families. A portion of the tuition increase sought by UB is, in effect, producing a financial plan benefit to the State of New York at the expense of the students. This is the second critical mistake made by UB and SUNY leadership.

UUP’ s position on what we know so far is very clear:

* Tuition increases should be rational—and by that we mean reasonable. Increases of 8% annually stretch the definition of rational.

* All resident undergraduate students should be charged the same amount of tuition—regardless of what SUNY institution they attend. Access and selection of a campus should not be impeded by differential tuition—which could significantly hurt students who commute.

* Under no circumstances should tuition ever be pledged or used to pay for the construction of buildings or the support of public/private partnerships. You will recall that SUNY, for some time, claimed that the State stole its tuition. Unfortunately, this proposal does just that.

* Tuition must only be applied to pay to support academic programming and related services. Students should be the only ones who benefit from tuition increases.

* Financial aid should remain a State responsibility, especially for public higher education institutions.

* Finally, if the State truly believes that the UB plan and those forthcoming from the other University Centers provide real economic benefits, then the State, not the students, should pay for them.

As I mentioned earlier, the UB plan is at best vague and I suspect that the Governor’ s office and the University will have to have a good deal of staff work to do before all of the components and financial transactions of these plans become clear. I will keep you fully informed as more information becomes available. In the meantime, send an electronic letter on the supplemental budget and the NYSUNY2020 proposal.


In Union,
Phil


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