SUNY board moves toward rare addition of college

Posted at: 07/16/2013 8:53 PM

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The State University of New York on Tuesday moved toward creating the first new SUNY college in 50 years, but only after several trustees warned the decision is based on too much corporate influence, a ginned-up report and an internal power struggle.

The pointed debate was rare in public in Albany, but ultimately SUNY trustees approved a major step in separating the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering from the University at Albany for the 2014-15 academic year.

"I heard a great deal of enthusiasm for this, but I don't share that enthusiasm," said Trustee Marshall Lichtman. He noted he raised "a whole host of reasons" in previous, apparently closed-door sessions. Several trustees indicated closed-door debate showed a rift over the secretive proposal first reported by The Associated Press in March.

Trustees noted the move has had no outside review by experts and could end up duplicating administration costs for SUNY, just as it's trying to reduce costs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo who is pushing to use SUNY to attract and retain employers would gain significant control of the nanonscience college through his appointments.

Trustee Cary Staller noted the internal SUNY report used to support the separation contained errors, including overstating the college board scores of students at the nanoscience center and understating the scores of students at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other top schools.

Stanford and MIT "have spun off a lot more economic activity," contrary to the comparison in the report, Staller said.

He also said the compensation sought by the University at Albany president in a private letter provided to trustees Monday night "is really quite damning" and could require using resources intended for other campuses.

Trustees also referred to a power struggle between the University at Albany and nanoscience founder and CEO Alain E. Kaloyeros, who is closedly allied with Cuomo, who pushed his plan to attract employers by linking them to campuses and Kaloyeros' success.

Staller said the proposal would give Kalloyeros more power than college presidents and diminish the power of faculty and staff despite SUNY's goal of shared decision making.

Kaloyeros currently is one of the state's highest paid employees, earning more than $1.3 million.

"I think we are rewarding bad behavior," Staller said. "Maybe there is a place for divorce, but I think first you do mediation."

"I'm not convinced anyone has articulated in a simple, clear way why this institution as a separate degree-granting institution will be able to fulfill its mission any better than part of the University at Albany," said Trustee Richard Socarides.

"There is fear that there is sort of a push toward corporate America taking away from the academic mission of our institutions," said Trustee Tremayne Price, the student representative to the board. "It raises a lot of questions that this will have on students."

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and board Chairman H. Carl McCall, close allies to Cuomo, acknowledged the many unanswered questions. They said that's what a working group, apparently deliberating behind closed doors, will evaluate.

"It is a disruptive innovation," said Trustee Linda Sanford.  "Every other institution around the world is going through disruptive innovation in order to be relevant in the 21st Century, and we have to do the same thing. Otherwise, we will be left in the dust."


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