November 20, 1995
M R . R O D E R I C K G . W . C H U
[Chair, Rethinking SUNY Mission/Vision Committee]
D e a r R o d :
Herein aâ clarification of my views on the "Rethinking SUNY" process, and the various proposals, from me and others, regarding system administrationâ.
First, I would emphasize that-despite certain misreads of my position-I have never advocated complete autonomy for UB or any other SUNY campus. UB is a proud member of SUNY, committed to the proposition that all of us in State University are here to serve well the people of New York, to deliver well on the trust they have placed in us, and to manage well the resources they have committed to us. To have every campus operating entirely on its own would not ensure good management of state taxpayer support or thoughtful fulfillment of our public obligations.
On the contrary, a redefined SUNY structure that I have advocatedâ is my view of ways to better serve our public trust. That redefinition has four key elements.
C a m p u s M i s s i o n . The Board of Trustees, supported and advised by the Chancellor and staff, should review and approve campus missions, and then monitor the campuses' performance of their respective missions. Review and approval of campus missions should be done periodically, at intervals sufficiently spaced to allow for stable planning and development. This process would encourage campuses to identify and build on strengths; it would encourage the Board to encourage differentiated campuses, avoid unnecessary duplication, and expand student choice. The focus of the Board would rightly be on the future needs of New York's citizenry and economy and on the fit of the pieces in the system. Quite frankly, I believe this process would develop a stronger system; it would recognize the richness of the diversity in the system which is now obscured by our current practices; it would eliminate friction and inefficiency flowing from lack of clarity regarding campus missions.
E n r o l l m e n t M a n a g e m e n t . Within the approved mission framework, the Board should set enrollment ranges for each campus. The current use of exact numerical enrollment targets is, as a management strategy, too inflexible to be fully effective. Enrollment management is not a science that permits such precision. Target ranges-which carry with them penalties for failing to meet the low end and cessation of state support for New York students above the high end-would be workable.
T u i t i o n . Having tuitions set by central authority without significant consideration of the differentiated costs of programs, quality of programs, or student financial circumstances and needs has made it immensely difficult to manage any SUNY campus well. Particularly recently, programs have been cut and thinned while tuitions increased, and the students have seen an increasingly attenuated connection between what they pay for and what they get.
The viable alternative, however, would not be for each campus to set definitively and independently its own tuition. My contention has been that campuses should initiate tuition proposals, taking into consideration their status as public institutions; their cost of providing a quality education, competitive with state and national institutions in their peer groups; and their students' ability to afford any proposed tuition. Student access regardless of financial ability is a keystone of public higher education, and thus tuition and financial aid levels must be coordinated in these campus proposals. The Board, again with the support and advice of the Chancellor and staff, should review, adjust where necessary, and approve all tuition proposals.
As a corollary of this tuition policy, all revenue raised by tuition and other campus-based services should flow into campus-based income funds established and audited by the Board. Students should know that what they pay in tuition supports their education, particularly as they are asked to pay an increasing proportion of the cost. Simply as business practice, assuring that our students get all that they pay for is both fair and sensible. It will keep us competitive vis ├ vis comparable institutions outside SUNY.
S t a t e T a x A l l o c a t i o n . The Board should allocate state tax support. As you have indicated, such allocations must take into consideration inherent differences in the costs of different kinds and levels of education; otherwise campuses would be driven out of crucial but higher cost educational programs, and the aim of differentiated campus missions would be frustrated. I believe that, by allocating state tax support-whether at 50%, 40%, or even less of operating cost-and through their control of the capital budget, the Trustees would have sufficient financial leverage to implement state public higher education policy. Using this operating principle clearly focuses the Board's management responsibilities on those portions of public higher education funding provided by the citizens of New York, whom the Trustees serve.
What I have described, I believe, adequately balances the proper roles of the Trustees, Chancellor and central staff, and campus management, with the latter two groups working in support of the Trustees' leadership. Campuses can be held accountable for their mission, their management of programs, and their expenditures of funds. The Board would set policies and would have sufficient tools to ensure that policies are implemented without using a heavy bureaucratic hand. The incentives to the campuses to provide their students with the best education available would be in place.
â[As for the role of SUNY Central,] we agree that SUNY Central should provide to campuses only those services that the campuses want and are willing to pay for. We also agree that the primary mission of the Chancellor and SUNY Central is to support and advise the Board on matters of policy. The Chancellor analogizes SUNY Central with a holding company for a large conglomerate; we know of such holding companiesâ which are highly successful and whose central offices comprise 100 or so peopleâ. We also know of large public higher education systems which operate on the holding company model, with very small central staffs. On this basisâ the question is how SUNY Central should be restructured so as to operate like a holding company.
I hope this clarifies my views. Frankly, I am troubled by the widespread misconception that I have been and am in favor of separating UB, or any campus, from Board oversight on the key matters of mission, enrollment, tuition-setting, and tax allocation. Clearly, I am not.â Thank you for inviting me to clarify my opinion on these crucial issues facing SUNY and its campuses at this time.
William R. Greiner