Spitzer gets one right: higher education

A few articles about the future of SUNY and CUNY. The New York Sun is the most critical article, I think. I was surprised Upstate papers didn’t provide more coverage.

From The New York Sun (“Spitzer May Hire 2,500 More Professors“):*

Governor Spitzer’s Commission on Higher Education is poised to recommend to the governor on Monday that the State and City Universities of New York hire between 2,000 and 2,500 additional full-time faculty by 2013.

As the state faces a $4.3 billion budget gap, the commission, appointed by Mr. Spitzer in May, is also expected to recommend spending billions of dollars to fix crumbling infrastructure at state schools and creating an “innovation fund” to subsidize scientific research it says would boost economic development and New York’s status as a research capital.

During an economic downturn, New York is one of the only states in the country seeking to expand its public university system, education experts said.

“These blithe demands for ever more government funds and tuition hikes must be challenged in light of the prediction that student enrollment in the near future will decrease, faculty members are now getting paid more to teach fewer hours, and there are currently twice as many campus administrators as there were in the 1970s,” a former SUNY trustee, Candace de Russy, said in an e-mail. Online education could also undercut the demands for new full-time faculty members, Ms. de Russy said.

The state currently contributes about $1.2 billion to CUNY’s budget, and $3.36 billion to SUNY. The commission is slated to release its final recommendations in June, but university officials are putting more stock in the preliminary report, which can affect the state budget.

So How Do We Get to Berkeley? Spend Big on SUNY, Panel Says” (The New York Times, 2007-12-16):

“For this area to be viable,” he said in an interview in his art-filled office, “the best thing they can do, the only thing they can do, is develop great research universities.”

As the largest and most comprehensive university of the State University of New York’s 64 campuses, Buffalo is a good yardstick for measuring just how far New York has traveled — yet how short it has fallen from Nelson A. Rockefeller’s vision of creating a premier public university system.

With specialties in biomedical sciences and earthquake engineering, it is one of only two SUNY campuses, along with Stony Brook, that belong to the Association of American Universities, an elite group of 62 research universities. But even its national reputation, buzz and research dollars put it nowhere near the ranks of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

“We certainly don’t have a Berkeley,” said Lloyd Constantine, Mr. Spitzer’s senior adviser, who worked with the commission and visited all the SUNY campuses. “California has more than one. In a state like ours, we could certainly have a couple. Their importance is that they are great schools, and they also lift the entire system.”

California and some other states have invested heavily in public research universities for decades and are not stopping for New York to catch up. Still other states, like Georgia and Arizona, have been pouring money into their public systems to try to rise in the rankings.

SUNY has grown substantially since the system was cobbled together from teachers’ colleges, agricultural schools, and swamps and farmland. Today it has more than 400,000 students at its research campuses, comprehensive colleges and community colleges.

Still, only 55 percent of college students in New York are in public institutions, compared with 79 percent nationally. Higher education draws less than 7 percent of the state budget in New York, compared with a national average of 11 percent.

“Typically, the SUNY board of trustees doesn’t understand what a research university is,” said Stephen B. Sample, who was the president of Buffalo for nine years before taking the same post at the University of Southern California in 1991. “One of the challenges I had as president of Buffalo was to help the board of trustees understand how different these institutions were, that Buffalo was not just bigger, but that it was a different animal, a different kind of institution.”

“President Simpson has done a great deal about making his plan visible,” Mr. Niejadlik said. “Things are happening.” Dr. Simpson, recruited from the University of California Santa Cruz four years ago, has an ambitious expansion plan, with the goal of creating a world-class research center that would help rebuild the region’s economy. The plan calls for new construction, and for growing to 35,000 students by 2020.

His ideas have won critical backing from business. “Until very recently, if you listed the most important priorities for business, the advancement of SUNY would not have been on the list,” said Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which represents 2,500 employers. Now, he said, there is a recognition that the university “can be part of an economic transformation of this region.”

(The article also expounds that the university system could be seen as a catalyst for revitalizing western New York.)

Report to Urge Sweeping Change for SUNY System” (The New York Times, 2007-12-15):

Warning that New York has “slipped in stature” and that its once-powerful position in national research has “faded,” a commission set up by Gov. Eliot Spitzer is recommending that the state free its public colleges and universities to raise tuition without the Legislature’s approval and to charge different prices from campus to campus.

“New York State’s public higher education institutions face a chronic problem — they have too little revenue and too little investment,” said the report.

The 30-member commission is calling for the state to create its own low-cost student loan program, to clear up a $5 billion backlog in maintenance and construction at its public universities and to hire 2,000 new full-time professors — including 250 academic stars who could bring in research dollars and prestige.

* The Sun article also provides some other interesting stats: “The number of full-time faculty at CUNY is about 6,100, down from 11,300 in 1975, when the university had 250,784 enrolled students, as compared to 225,962 in 2006.” Concerning SUNY: “SUNY currently employs 30,916 full-time professors, which account for about 48% of their faculty, and teach about 75% of credit hours, according to the university’s Web site.”

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