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Tripathi talks furloughs, MOOCs with PSS


Published November 22, 2013

Professional Staff Senate members peppered President Satish K. Tripathi with questions on a wide range of topics Thursday during the group’s final meeting of 2013, including the deficit reduction program as part of the new United University Professions’ contract and the emergence of online courses known as MOOCs.

“Listen for a few minutes and then ask me lots of questions,” a grinning Tripathi said before giving a 15-minute update on the current academic year, beginning with President Obama’s visit to campus in August to kick off his plans to make higher education more affordable.

Obama’s dialogue is continuing on university campuses across the nation, Tripathi said. While many colleges support Obama’s proposals, Tripathi noted that the majority of U.S. university presidents oppose the new rating system he wants to implement by 2015, a system that rewards schools based on metrics tied to performance.

Tripathi also talked about Finish in 4, UB’s initiative to provide the resources students need to graduate in four years. “It’s not just a slogan,” he said. He also thanked university staff who assisted with the creation of UB’s new winter session.

Briefly addressing the student partying controversy that’s been brewing in University Heights, the neighborhood that borders the South Campus, Tripathi said, “We need to work with the neighborhood to make sure that we are a good neighbor.”

He also talked about the future of the South Campus. “We definitely want the South Campus to be as vibrant — in fact more vibrant — than it is today,” he said. “As I’ve said before, we want to take the temporaries out, move a couple of other schools there and make that the E.B. Green campus it used to be.”

Tripathi also touted the $25 million National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center grant UB received earlier this month to develop next-generation crystallography.

The question-and-answer session covered a number of topics over the course of the next 45 minutes of the forum, held in the Center for Tomorrow.

One PSS member asked Tripathi about the deficit reduction program in the new UUP contract, which requires employees to take two unpaid days off, noting that other SUNY schools already have informed employees of when those days must be taken.

Tripathi said UB’s vice presidents and deans should work with their staff members to determine the best days to take off. “I personally feel that we need to have that flexibility at the unit level so that people can see when the best days are, rather than me saying Dec. 26 and 27 are the two days,” he said, adding he’ll be sending out a communication to employees “very soon.”

When asked for his thoughts on Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, Tripathi said he has frequent conversations about their emergence in higher education. “There’s not a single meeting I go to where we don’t talk about MOOCs,” he joked. In the short term, there’s a lot of hype over MOOCs, but over the long term, Tripathi said, there will be impact, especially at the undergraduate level. “Undergraduate education is not just taking courses. It has a lot more to do with the environment, the campus and so forth,” he said.

“MOOCs, many of us feel, are like a textbook. …  MOOCS are really just a one-way transfer of information. You are absorbing, but you have no way to have interaction. So this provides a chance to have another source of information for people to learn from, in addition to the textbook. Given the price of a textbook these days, it might be a better alternative.”

Tripathi pointed out that student needs and demands will determine whether these online courses become more prevalent.