Yesterday Governor Andrew Cuomo and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program, which will offer up to $35 million in funding to each of SUNY’s University Centers, including Stony Brook. But the offer comes with a catch: in order to obtain the funding, each campus will have to “submit detailed, long term economic and academic plans [that] must leverage private sector resources.” The plans will be evaluated based on several criteria, including this one that will be of particular interest to students: “Funding mechanisms, such as capital financing, tuition increases and private sector financing” (emphasis ours).
If you think this sounds like a revival of the enormously controversial Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, or PHEEIA, that was promoted last year by Governor Paterson and SUNY administrators including Zimpher, you’re right — to a point. While PHEEIA would have applied to all of SUNY’s 64 campuses, as well as its New York City counterpart, CUNY, NYSUNY 2020 focuses only on the four University Centers: Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook. And rather than attempting to pass a piece of legislation allowing changes desired by SUNY administrators, including new policies on tuition and public-private partnerships, Cuomo appears to be “inviting” administrators at the four University Centers to demonstrate what they’d do with those powers, with $35 million in funding as a reward. But whatever plans are put forth by the four campuses, they won’t be able to implement them without the State Legislature passing something like PHEEIA, something that has so far been hindered by strong opposition in the Assembly.
What Cuomo and Zimpher seem to be looking for is something from each University Center along the lines of Buffalo’s UB 2020, a plan initiated by its administration in 2004 “for our emergence as a world-class public research university.” It includes all the elements NYSUNY 2020 demands, and indeed, SUNY’s NYSUNY 2020 press release strongly hints that UB 2020 was NYSUNY 2020′s inspiration: “For example, the University at Buffalo may submit UB 2020 as its plan.” (And then there is the similarity in names…)
Stony Brook’s President Samuel Stanley, who was a big supporter of PHEEIA, is predictably also on board for NYSUNY 2020, “applauding” Cuomo for his “leadership” and Zimpher for her “commitment and support.” Similarly, PHEEIA opponents, who have viewed it and similar proposals as de facto attempts at privatizing SUNY and restricting access to higher education, can be expected to line up against NYSUNY 2020. So far, though, none have responded to SUNY’s promotional media blitz.
Stay tuned for more as we learn it.
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