In a discussion with Stony Brook University students on Monday, New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle recounted the moment a bill that raised tuition at SUNY by $300 per year was born on a whiteboard in his office.
According to LaValle, one of his first goals while standing in front of that whiteboard “was to create a rational tuition policy so the university and students would know exactly what their obligations would be” over a multi-year period.
LaValle, the Chairman of the New York State Senate’s Committee on Higher Education, spent an hour fielding questions from Stony Brook journalism students in the newsroom basement on topics ranging from his stance on gay marriage to funding for the university’s teaching hospital. But a large portion of the conversation was dedicated to Stony Brook University’s policies and funding, especially NYSUNY 2020.
“You as students are making an investment in SUNY. Now the state is making the investment,” said LaValle of the NYSUNY 2020 bill, which raises tuition as well as locks in state funding for a five year period ending in 2016.
“Over the last four years, SUNY has lost 1.4 billion dollars in state funding,” said LaValle of the need to increase tuition. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and a number of representatives, including LaValle, successfully fought against most of the cuts to the state’s three teaching hospitals, but LaValle still feels the hospitals are vulnerable to cuts.
To fix these problems, Zimpher, Cuomo, and state representatives settled on a rational tuition plan, for which “there was general support, but the support was not for a dollar amount,” according to LaValle.
Eventually, the Senate and Assembly decided on an increase of up to $150 per semester that could change each year. At his State of the University address, President Samuel Stanley indicated that funds lost to state budget cuts wouldn’t be replaced until 2016.
LaValle contrasted the 2020 bill to an increase passed by a Democratic Assembly under Governor David Patterson. That bill was built around a $620 increase in tuition over just one year. Only part of that money ever reached SUNY.
“We increased the share that SUNY gets by 10 percent,” said LaValle of the 2009 increase. He also indicated that another 10 percent of that money would be on its way.
In addition to the increased investments from the state and students, LaValle said that universities needed to cut costs and raise more money. Stanley echoed that sentiment in his address on the 21st of September.
But LaValle and Stanley aren’t always in sync. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele made headlines recently when they cancelled appearances at Stanley’s court mandated apology to Southampton students.
LaValle objected to how secretive Stanley’s apology was, saying that “we live in a society where disclosure and openess is a way of life,” and that he “believe[s the apology] was very hollow.”
LaValle said the judge was correct to rule against the university because decisions regarding buildings and grounds need to be made by the College Council, not by university presidents. He was also upset by how abrupt the decision was and how it negatively affected his district.
He did not, however, mind that the Stony Brook foundation paid the university’s legal fees. “Students should not have borne the payment of the lawsuits. It’s appropriate use of the foundation,” he said.
LaValle’s deep support for the Southampton campus also influences his position on the proposed South Korea campus, which he supports as long as no state dollars are used to fund it.
In the months to follow, LaValle plans on working to closer regulate trade schools, improving communication at LIPA and passing measures to keep young people living on Long Island.
But he also has plans to expand higher education programs in the Southampton area, both on Stony Brook’s satellite campus and at Southampton Hospital.
LaValle described the empty campus at Southampton, saying that if Stony Brook did not want it, they should allow something else to operate there.
“I would like to create an Aspen Institute-like program on Southampton campus,” said LaValle, who has a positive outlook on the campus’s future. “My sense is that the campus at Southampton will grow.”