Trustees Near Adoption of "Rethinking SUNY" Plan


Wallace Altes, president of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, makes a point during the Oct. 27 community roundtable at the Legislative Office Building, sponsored by the chamber and United University Professions. President Hitchcock and Senator Michael Hoblock (R-Albany County) look on. (Photo by Timothy Raab)

For the past several months, four planning committees of the State University of New York Board of Trustees have been proposing major changes in the SUNY system, as part of the "Rethinking SUNY" process initiated earlier this year by the State Legislature.

The full Board of Trustees is currently reviewing the proposals. It is expected to decide on November 21 which elements of the committee reports it will adopt and recommend to the Legislature by December 1, the date by which the Board was to submit its final plan.

The committees (on "Mission/Vision", chaired by Trustee Roderick Chu; on "Structure", chaired by Trustees Vice Chair Thomas Egan; on "Operations", chaired by Trustee Edward Cox; and on "Operating Revenues/Tuition", chaired by Trustee Theodore N. Sommer) have considered issues that include: Teaching Productivity, Learning Productivity, Re-engineering System-wide Administration, Campus Collaboration, Management Flexibility, Business Services, Conditions for Encouraging Entrepreneurship, Strengthening Academic Specialization, and Program Duplication.

President Hitchcock describes the proposals as "thoughtful approaches to many of the critical issues that face the SUNY system in particular, and that reflect national higher education trends. We must view these recommendations in the context of a challenging fiscal climate in which all organizations that rely to any significant degree on State tax dollar support must expect, and plan for, a reduction in that support."

Key recommendations by the structure and operations committees include: integrating administrative functions to improve efficiency and customer service; reviewing academic programs that are duplicative and/or have low enrollments and/or high per-student operational costs; increasing learning and teaching productivity, and giving individual campuses more management flexibility.

Operating Revenue/Tuition Committee proposals include: annual tuition increases based on "rational indices of cost;" differentiating tuition among campus types, and encouraging campuses to become more "entrepreneurial," by generating income from outside sources.

In a memorandum cited last week by the New York Times, Egan recommended that each campus be given "maximum feasible administrative autonomy.

"To the greatest degree feasible," Egan wrote, "centrally budgeted and administered functions associated with individual campuses should be devolved to them. Campuses will be held accountable for all their expenditures and all aspects of their functioning."

Egan also said that "campuses should be freed from the disincentive to prudent management and multi-year planning which results from their current inability to carry funds forward from year to year."

Hitchcock, in an Oct. 27 letter to Trustees Cox and Egan, members of their committees, Board of Trustees Chair Frederic Salerno, other Trustees, Chancellor Bartlett, and Interim SUNY Provost Stephen Weber, wrote, "We advocate an organization that invests the campuses with far greater autonomy reflective of their role in generating an ever-increasing share of their resources."

She said, "We believe that such enhanced campus autonomy and the ability to reward initiative and to meet emerging fiscal realities can be achieved while the institutions function within a System. In fact, we advocate that such a System be built upon a coordinated articulation of individually negotiated campus missions within the context of the System. Once articulated, these mission statements would become the framework for all campus decision making and the basis for campus accountability to the System.

As this issue of Update went to press, the Trustees were scheduled to hold a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, during a retreat for SUNY Presidents that President Hitchcock will be attending. Next week's issue will include a report on that meeting.

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