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For Immediate Release
May 20, 2021

SUNY post-pandemic hurdles topic of UUP virtual roundtable on higher education

Post-pandemic challenges to SUNY, including encouraging inclusion and diversity; expanding educational opportunities; and keeping the nation’s largest public higher education system viable, affordable and accessible, were topics of discussion at a virtual roundtable on public higher education today hosted by United University Professions.

Panelists also considered whether changes put in place during the pandemic—such as remote instruction—should be discarded or adapted as part of a new normal in higher education.

UUP President Fred Kowal moderated the discussion. Panelists were NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango; NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner; SUNY Brockport Prof. Cathy Houston-Wilson; SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Teresa Miller; Binghamton University student Elidenya Pena; and UUP statewide Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler.

“Today, we take up the massive issue of what the future of public higher education is in New York and the nation,” Kowal said as he opened the 70-minute forum. “What COVID has shown us is that we can adapt and that we have to adapt. But a balance needs to be struck and the emphasis must be on a return to in-person instruction. The doors of SUNY must swing open and be accessible to all.”

Zoom here to stay

Panelists agreed that the use of remote instruction and online learning—accelerated by necessity during the pandemic—should continue but not be seen as a substitute for in-person instruction.

“I think we need to take a look at the way we’re using technology, but it shouldn’t be used to replace that in-person experience,” DiBrango said. “We have to listen to students who were in college pre-COVID and those who’ve only been in college during the pandemic for lessons learned. The question is where do we enhance technology and where do we create pathways for in-person interaction?”

“We need to assess what kind of role online education should have,” Dangler said. “Many students had difficulty online. We’ve had students who don’t have privacy at home, let alone the technology or access to broadband internet. The online world is expanding for very good reason in a lot of areas, but we will want to critically assess whether it’s the right avenue to teach students.”

Horner agreed, adding that in-person interactions on campus and in class cannot be duplicated on Zoom or other online platforms. “An important part of the college experience is the interaction that occurs, and that doesn’t happen online,” Horner said. “As we have been forced to learn how to use technology to cover and deliver the services to our college campuses, it will enhance our work going forward. But we are clearly aware that you have to have the personal experience.

SUNY needs more diversity Miller, who heads up SUNY’s PRODiG faculty diversity initiative to hire 1,000 professors from underrepresented groups by 2030, said that SUNY faculty ranks need to become more diverse to reflect the diversity of SUNY’s students. Across SUNY, Hispanic and Latinx students make up 14% of students, while the faculty is just 3.4% Hispanic and Latinx. She said 10.7% of SUNY students are Black, compared to 4% of faculty.

“Our campuses must be more diverse, it is a necessity,” she said. “It empowers our students to be more successful.” Elidenya Pena, a Binghamton University student from the South Bronx, said a lack of diversity among Binghamton faculty added to the difficulty of adjusting to college life.

“Diversity is something really needed at SUNY campuses,” Pena, a first-generation college student, said. “With more diversity, people will understand how to interact with different cultures.” UUP, in its New York HEALS legislative proposal, calls for SUNY’s faculty to be made up of at least 25% of people who are African American, Native American and Latinx by 2025.

“We have to face the reality of (SUNY) underfunding, the challenges students are facing and the need for more diversity in SUNY leadership,” Kowal said. “New York state has been an education engine for the country and can be again. It’s going to take resources and new ideas.”

Go to to view a video of the roundtable.

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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