Alan Chartock: SUNY system, politics don't mix
The professor says SUNY is a great institution and politicians should keep their hands off of it.
I worked for a long, long time as a SUNY professor, first at New Paltz, a campus I truly loved, and then as a joint professor at SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Albany.
During my tenure at SUNY, the university grew to be better and better. The students were bright and ambitious and wanted to make their mark on the world and the tuition was reasonable, although nothing like Hunter College, which cost nothing when I went there. That should be the case for every deserving student. If we seek equality of opportunity, the only way to make that happen is to ensure everyone with the brains and the willpower gets a free college education, just as they get a free high school education. Today’s students are burdened with huge debts that they will be paying off for years.
Show me a politician and I’ll show you someone who wants to get his or her hands on anything that’s big and offers the potential for a return on their investment. The last several governors have tried to get their clutches into the State University and Andrew Cuomo is no different. He knew exactly how to get what he wanted. He appointed the members of the SUNY Board of Trustees and appointed former New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall as chairman of that board. McCall was a real Cuomo adversary until that appointment. You will remember that at the last minute when McCall had the chance to run against George Pataki, Cuomo entered the race. McCall correctly thought that Cuomo had helped to spoil his chances.
Cuomo saw SUNY as a big help in bringing better economic times to hurting upstate New York. While some of us looked askance at his plans for tying business to SUNY, we got the message. Many thought that a liberal arts education should not be tied to business but we hoped that the business part would not overwhelm the primary educational mission of SUNY. After all, SUNY had a great Chancellor in Nancy Zimpher and we hoped that she could keep things in perspective.
Cuomo came up with a plan for tax avoidance for those who tied their business wagon to a SUNY campus. Not only that, he had a top dog in the form of Alain Kaloyeros who had masterminded something called SUNY Poly, a separate campus in Albany that seemed quite successful in attracting high tech to upstate New York. Kaloyeros made more money than anyone on the state payroll. It seemed worth it.
But not so fast! Fighting U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recently named Kaloyeros, two of Cuomo’s best friends and a bunch of others in a 12-count federal complaint for alleged bid-rigging on billion-dollar state-funded economic development projects in Syracuse and Buffalo. Cuomo has been very embarrassed by this and now has the unmitigated chutzpah (nerve) to say that SUNY is a separate agency and that he can’t be faulted for what they did. Will someone please give me a break? The governor was calling the SUNY shots and we all knew it. Everyone at SUNY was scared to death of the guy and it is utter nonsense to say that SUNY was not his agency. It was and is and nothing is going to change that.
Perhaps having had enough, Chancellor Zimpher announced several months ago that she was done at SUNY and would take a well-deserved retirement. I suspect that she had had enough of Cuomo’s interference. We also learned that the Legislature, bowing to Cuomo’s will, passed legislation not allowing New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to audit the offending SUNY-connected economic development projects. What a sham. That should be corrected immediately by the Assembly and Senate. This whole mess might well have been avoided had DiNapoli been allowed to do the job he was elected to do.
SUNY is a great institution and politicians should keep their hands off of it.