Senate agenda: budget, 'Fresh Start,' use of UTAs


Reporter Staff

Faculty Senators approved first readings of two academic resolutions and plied President Greiner and Senior Vice President Robert Wagner with questions on the state budget during their first meeting of the new year.

Senators set the stage to vote next month on resolutions governing the use of undergraduate teaching assistants and a new "Fresh Start" program for students returning to college after a failed first attempt. Senate Educational Policies and Programs Committee Chair Michael Metzger explained that the undergraduate teaching assistant resolution is a new version of a bill the Senate passed last spring, amended to answer concerns raised by President Greiner over the summer.

The Fresh Start program, Metzger explained, would allow poor grades obtained in an earlier, unsuccessful stint in college to be discounted for certain students who, after an absence of five years or more, return to college. Both resolutions will be debated by the full Senate and voted on during their next meeting, Feb. 20.

Wagner told Faculty Senators that many of the changes proposed in Rethinking SUNY legislative package tacked onto this year's budget actually had their genesis in a report written over a decade ago by yet another commission on SUNY's future. "The Challenge and the Choice" was an independent analysis of SUNY commissioned by former Chancellor Clifton Wharton in 1985. Its final report, according to Wagner, became the basis of "flexibility legislation" passed later that year. However, Wharton left SUNY to become head of the TIAA-CREF pension system shortly thereafter, so support for it waned, according to Wagner.

"However," Wagner explained, "a lot of what we see in Rethinking SUNY extends or builds off of that 1985 report." Management flexibility, program coordination among campuses and selective, rather than across-the-board, cuts in finances were the prime recommendations of that report. Wagner said that Rethinking SUNY amplifies some management flexibility already on the books and gives more local control over revenues with its consolidated fund proposal and relieves SUNY of the financial stress of running hospitals, by spinning them off to private, not-for-profit corporations. "The proposals with respect to tuition are some of the most important issues facing campuses in the next few years," said Wagner. "We are aggressively pursuing this opportunity to have the system Trustees, not the legislature, become wholly responsible for tuition policy." The proposed tuition policy would also enable Trustees to set different rates of tuition for different campuses or programs.

Wagner added that a proposal to entrust the Trustees with power to allow entrepreneurial use of campus property could also benefit UB significantly. "We have 1,200 acres," observed Wagner. "The legislation would empower the Trustees to let parties other than New York State do things on campus."

Asked about the process for making changes recommended in Rethinking SUNY, President Greiner explained that, while some more significant parts of the package such as tuition policy and hospital spin-offs would require legislative action, many other things could be accomplished simply by changing SUNY Trustee policies. And, added Greiner, the new Trustees are open to proposals for change. "There has been more participation by campus presidents and officers in this process than in any other I have seen," said Greiner. "These new Trustees ask to come out to see the campuses and learn firsthand."

Greiner also explained that earlier attempts to look toward improved "faculty productivity" as a cost saving measure seem to have fallen by the wayside. "What they have realized is that productivity, as least as they measure it, is actually linked to the architecture of SUNY," he said. "There simply are no huge classrooms on SUNY campuses, thus class sizes are smaller." Wagner added that productivity issues were marginally addressed in Rethinking SUNY with a call for investment in instructional technology, but that investment is unfunded this year because no plan on how best to spend that investment is yet in place.

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