• August 28, 2015

In a Shrinking City, a University Offers a Bold, and Chancy, Vision of Growth

In a Shrinking City, a University Offers a Bold Vision of Growth 1

Sarah Weeden for The Chronicle

John B. Simpson, president of the U. at Buffalo, visits a campus building project. The university needs 1,000 more faculty members, he says, to raise its profile to the level of flagships like Ohio State.

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Sarah Weeden for The Chronicle

John B. Simpson, president of the U. at Buffalo, visits a campus building project. The university needs 1,000 more faculty members, he says, to raise its profile to the level of flagships like Ohio State.

People who talk with John B. Simpson about UB2020, the plan to revitalize the State University of New York's Buffalo campus, along with Buffalo itself, will eventually hear the Seattle story.

It goes like this: Mr. Simpson, a young professor of psychology in 1975, landed a job at the University of Washington. Thrilled to be employed, he recalls, he packed up his belongings and drove his wife, two kids, and dog to the city, where they were met by a sign: "Will the last person leaving Seattle--turn out the lights." The sign was a response to 60,000 layoffs at Boeing, which had turned the city into what one journalist at the time called "a vast pawnshop," as people shed their belongings and got out of town.

In the decades since, of course, Seattle has become the home of world-dominating technology companies and leading biomedical firms, not to mention Starbucks. "I ask people why this happened, and the answer almost always is that it's the University of Washington," says Mr. Simpson.

Mr. Simpson's story may be more legend than history--the now-famous billboard was displayed for only two weeks in 1971--but it effectively imparts his lesson for the University at Buffalo, where he is president: A vibrant, entrepreneurial, ambitious, first-class university can lift up an entire region, even one as downtrodden as Western New York, one of the poorest areas in the country. In doing so, Buffalo could follow the "eds and meds" model that has buoyed postindustrial cities like Raleigh, N.C.; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; and Baltimore.

The problem is that the University at Buffalo is not vibrant, has not traditionally been entrepreneurial, and is most certainly not first-class.

But with UB2020, the university is ambitious--or aggressive, depending on your point of view. The plan is an expansive effort to map out what the campus will look like in decades to come, eventually with 10,000 more students, 1,000 more faculty members, seven million more square feet of space, and a doubling of the university's current $1.7-billion economic impact on the region. This year, when many universities are halting construction projects, Buffalo is pushing ahead with $362-million in new construction, all part of the UB2020 plan.

The University at Buffalo, with its 28,000 students and nearly $348-million in annual research-and-development spending, has long operated in the shadow of New York's premier private institutions: Columbia, Cornell, and New York Universities, and the University of Rochester.

UB2020 counts on the passage of a bill, now in the New York State Assembly, that would free the university from state regulations that Mr. Simpson and others here believe have foiled its growth and achievement over the decades. He wants the plan and the legislation, which have support from local development agencies and public figures, to fire up the university's ability to raise money--as well as its profile--from private donations, higher tuition, and public-private financing deals. UB2020 would essentially begin to create tiers in a state system that has been unusually egalitarian--"a socialistic enterprise," as Mr. Simpson puts it.

"Things are sort of passed out to everyone, and everyone is made happy and whole at a certain level, rather than make something truly fine and great," he says. "What we are trying to do is chafe at that status quo. ... The status quo is what has put this university in a long, slow, downward trajectory."

Certainly people have chafed--not least other SUNY campus leaders, who want such changes for their institutions, too, and fear being left behind. Others believe the plan will make Buffalo less accessible to lower-income students and open the door to mischief with state resources. "The UB2020 plan would be implemented through a process of basically destroying the university," says Phillip H. Smith, president of United University Professions, a union that represents faculty and staff members in the state system. What would be destroyed as the University at Buffalo aspires to a loftier status, he argues, is its vital accessibility to average New Yorkers.

UB2020 "seeks to create a private university within the state university," says Deborah J. Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Assembly's higher-education committee. "The UB2020 proposal has many dramatic changes that I think doing all at once--and maybe doing some at all--are inappropriate."

Evidence of Neglect

It's clear from a visit to the University at Buffalo that whatever state legislators or the SUNY system has done so far has not worked. The university's North Campus, in suburban Amherst, exudes mediocrity, conveying the feeling that no one has invested in this place, in part perhaps because no one on the campus had a sense of control. The drab brick buildings and the disrepair evident everywhere are the first signals.

In 2004, when Mr. Simpson arrived from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was executive vice chancellor and provost, he brought a number of California administrators with him. They found a wasteful, rudderless institution. The university had more than 80 telephone systems. People procured their own office computers, each set up with a different configuration. Offices for university support, like human resources and communications, were strewn across the campus, disconnected from one another. There was no capital plan or long-range development plan; in fact, there had not been one since the early 1960s.

"The capital planning was done based on what the people saw in Albany that year," Mr. Simpson says, referring to the state capital.

He was highly impressed with the quality of the faculty members, but they talked about work in terms of their own departments. "Nobody put the university into its conversations--it was all local," he says. "The sum of the whole was less than the sum of the parts."

Buffalo needed a grand plan, and Mr. Simpson asked people to imagine what the university would look like in 2020. Faculty members started working soon after his arrival on a framework of "strengths" that would knit together the university's disciplines in the future. Growth would have to come within those strengths.

Meanwhile, Gov. Eliot Spitzer established a commission to study higher education in New York, led by Hunter R. Rawlings III, a former president of Cornell University. The panel's report, released last year, criticized the state's treatment of public higher education. Few other states, it noted, have such a vast system--SUNY serves more than 400,000 students, on 64 campuses--and the size makes it difficult to govern. Moreover, well-regarded university systems, like those in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, send special resources and attention to their flagships. SUNY has not done that. Instead, the commission said, the system's campuses face chronic problems: "too little revenue, too little investment, and too much regulation."

With the help of local politicians, the University at Buffalo is making a run at that regulation in the pending bill, which passed the State Senate this summer but faces a tough battle in the Assembly.

The proposed changes are of four main kinds. One would allow the university to work through state intermediaries and quasi-governmental agencies to gain access to private capital, which public universities in other states can already tap. SUNY universities are not allowed to do that.

Another part of the bill would give the university more freedom to forge public-private partnerships, allowing private developers to build facilities on the campus. Public universities in other states can form contracts with private entities to build, say, a hotel and conference center or a bookstore on university land, but SUNY universities are barred from making such deals.

Yet another feature attempts to free the university from needing restrictive state approval for even the most nominal purchases. Buffalo, a university with an annual budget of $1.3-billion, has to get approval from the state attorney general and the state comptroller anytime it wants to spend more than $10,000. That leads to delays and additional costs, campus officials say; an engineering building now under construction would have come in 13 months sooner and $3.8-million cheaper if, as the legislation recommends, the required audits had been moved to the back end instead of the front end.

One of the most controversial features of the legislation deals with tuition. Undergraduates who want to go to SUNY pay the same rate at a big research institution, like Buffalo, as at a small college, like the Old Westbury campus. Buffalo officials believe that an education at their university costs more and should be worth more. They want the ability to raise tuition within one-and-a-half times the increase in the Higher Education Price Index, an annual indicator of changes in college costs. The university would set aside an amount equal to 10 to 20 percent of net-tuition revenue for financial aid for needy students.

The legislation would also prevent the state from raiding the university's appropriations to make up for the price increase. People on the campus are miffed about the Legislature's most recent action regarding tuition: It raised the price 14 percent this year, then kept 80 percent of that money to close a state-budget gap.

Turf Battles

The UB2020 legislation has inspired a similar bill that would apply some of the same rules to all of the state-university system's research campuses, at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook, along with the upstate and downstate medical centers. The presidents of the Albany, Binghamton, and Stony Brook campuses support the regulatory reforms of the UB2020 legislation, but some wonder why Buffalo's administrators have not done more to pull the other research campuses along. "I don't understand the notion of doing it for one SUNY campus," said Shirley Strum Kenny, shortly before she retired from her post as Stony Brook's president this year. "The other three centers would also need that legislation equally. It doesn't make sense."

Mr. Simpson and other administrators at Buffalo say that while they support the bill for the other research campuses, they believe that legislators might be more willing to support limited reforms, with Buffalo acting as a pilot.

In an interview during her inaugural tour of the SUNY system this summer, Nancy L. Zimpher, the new chancellor, said that she favors the legislation that includes all of the research campuses, but that she would support the Buffalo-focused measure if it looked like the only opportunity to start a reform of the state system.

Certainly the UB2020 push has rankled some key people. Ms. Glick, the assembly's higher-education chair, characterizes the legislation as "a wish list for removing any connection to the state university, except for the money they choose to charge." She has reservations about public-private partnerships and says eliminating contract reviews by the attorney general and comptroller would come "at a time when we are seeking greater accountability and more transparency" from government.

She also worries about changes in the tuition structure--that Buffalo's charging more would cut out middle-income students, who might be the most sensitive to price increases and might not receive enough financial aid.

Mr. Smith, the faculty-union president, who has known Mr. Simpson since they were both assistant professors at the University of Washington, voices some of the same concerns. He worries about how the public-private partnerships might affect union rolls, and how public land might be squandered in private deals. Who has a better sense of how to run a campus? he asks. "Is it in the hands of campus managers, or is it in the hands of people who can sit at a distance--that is, our legislators--and look at this?" he says, indicating that it's the legislators.

Around the time he made that argument, however, the State Senate was involved in a monthlong battle that saw legislation grind to a halt, as senators locked one another out of the chamber and squabbled over the gavel.

Still, Mr. Smith believes that big decisions about tuition and campus management should be kept in the hands of legislators.

Prominent business leaders and public figures in Buffalo disagree. "We believe UB2020 is the single most important economic-development project for this region," says Andrew Rudnick, president and chief executive of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, a regional economic-development organization. He blames resistance to the bill on a philosophical and political split between representatives from upstate and those from downstate, who control the Assembly.

Toby Ann Stavisky, a senator from Queens who chairs the Senate's higher-education committee, says she wants to find a way to pass the bill in the Assembly, even though she disagrees with portions, like the tuition policy, for the sake of Western New York. "I don't view it as an education issue, but as an economic-development program," she says.

Responsibility to Grow

Even if UB2020 clears its legislative hurdle, it faces other challenges. Mr. Simpson says the university needs 1,000 more faculty members to raise its profile to the level of great state flagships, like Ohio State University and the University of Michigan. To get 1,000 more faculty members, though, Buffalo needs 10,000 more students--and New York is in a region that will see flat or declining numbers of traditional-age college students.

Where will those additional students come from? "All over the world," Mr. Simpson answers flatly. But the university already has the highest proportion of international-student enrollment among the nation's public research universities.

The UB2020 plan also suggests that the university could draw 2,000 more graduate students, along with more in-state students, more out-of-state students, and more high-school graduates who wouldn't normally aspire to college.

The environmental crisis, of all things, may help. In coming decades, Western New York may actually have the climate and resources that make it a more attractive place to settle.

That's an argument posed by Robert G. Shibley, a professor of architecture and planning who manages the master-planning elements of UB2020 after spending almost 30 years of his SUNY career avoiding administrative posts. Mr. Shibley, who has designed award-winning plans to revitalize Buffalo, thought UB2020 offered compelling opportunities to realize that revitalization. A century ago, Buffalo was one of the richest cities in America, with the most millionaires per capita. It boasted extensive infrastructure in ports, rail, and canals, not to mention world-class architecture, much of it now available for cheap. "This is a city of tremendous bones," Mr. Shibley says.

The region also has lots of arable land and plenty of water, resources in short supply in parts of the country expected to see the most population growth.

"It is our ecological responsibility to grow here," Mr. Shibley says.

For now he is shepherding some major projects on the downtown medical campus and also focusing on ways to dress up the North and South campuses with new buildings and other amenities. He sees a day when the university builds developments that mix classrooms, residen ces, and commercial space to create vibrant parts of the campus. Much of that vision, he says, hangs on the fate of the legislation.

Mr. Simpson reports that his conversations about UB2020 with New Yorkers outside of Buffalo often get caught up in provincial competition. (One campus administrator at Buffalo likened the situation to crabs in a barrel--they pull one another down as they try to scramble up.)

To illustrate what's at stake, he tells another story about another city--Singapore. He went there a few years ago with a group of university presidents and learned about city-state's plan to build a world-class research university.

"They want to copy us," he says. "Everyone in the country understands it. They are going to do it.

"You contrast that to the U.S., where the squabble is about who is going to pay the budget this year as opposed to any larger thinking about what the place of a research university is in national security, or economics, or the cultural future of a country," he says. "The most valuable commodity we have in this country--perhaps the one thing that we have left--is higher education. We are doing so much to lose our advantage."


1. thedeal - August 03, 2009 at 06:57 am

Kudos to John Simpson for challenging the SUNY status quo and trying to build the University at Buffalo into a world-class institution. Buffalo may be the only SUNY school with such a grand vision and it deserves the support of the entire state. Other SUNY schools can join in. The ultimate goal should be to lift up the entire system. With a new chancellor, and with Buffalo's example, SUNY may just get there.

2. zarembka - August 03, 2009 at 12:55 pm

This article says that SUNY has been " 'a socialistic enterprise,' as Mr. Simpson puts it". President Simpson is using the language of the extreme Right in the U.S. to try to get his way toward privatization. This is the same language the Republican minority uses against the national health-care discussion. Such language is unacceptable when respectful debate should be involved. Paul Zarembka, Professor of Economics, SUNY at Buffalo (for identification only)

3. jimholstunnotanalias - August 03, 2009 at 02:32 pm

President Simpson seems to have forgotten the SUNY Mission statement, which pledges the SUNY system to providing New Yorkers "with the broadest possible access, fully representative of all segments of the population in a complete range of academic, professional and vocational postsecondary programs," with levels of "tuition which most effectively promotes the university's access goals." This isn't "socialistic"; it's "public education." The source of SUNY's problems is an inadequate tax base compounded by drastically diminished income tax rates--the product of thirty years' class warfare effectively waged by capitalists in Albany.

4. lpeterson1990 - August 04, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Three passages are especially interesting: "The problem is that the University at Buffalo is not vibrant, has not traditionally been entrepreneurial, and is most certainly not first-class." Not something to put in new faculty and student orientation packets for sure! "The status quo is what has put this university in a long, slow, downward trajectory." And this: "The university's North Campus, in suburban Amherst, exudes mediocrity, ..." How will alumni react to this piece? If I understand the psychology behind this article as an attempt to jolt the state legislature into action to pass AS/2020, at the same time I question why take down so many individuals in the process? The negative and denigrating tone surpasses even the most self-deprecating attitude that is remarkably common in this region. But perhaps this piece is John Simpson's adieu before he heads to greener pastures?

5. buffaloman - August 04, 2009 at 02:55 pm

President Simpson missed a great opportunity to critique the way NY State patronage politics works. After all, the SUNY system is just another example of how political money is spread out in NY State. He is correct, there is no plan for funding and developing higher education in NY, especially for public universities. SUNY is just a jobs and public works program for politicians. Unfortunately, Simpson was not on the ball and missed a REAL opportunity to take a stand against the patronage system in NY. Instead, he resorted to playing politics and using a Republican tactic of calling the opposition "socialistic". This is a trick from the Rove-Bush toolbox (e.g. labeling opponents ad unpatriotic, communist, terrorist, etc....). Not too impressive. Running down his university doesn't seem to do much for his argument either. It doesn't seem wise to identify UB as a flagship if the President of the university acknowledges that the campus is in disrepair and taking on water. On the other hand, UB may be an approariate SUNY flagship for that very reason (i.e. a second class flagship for a second class fleet). Flagship UB also makes sense given the growth strategy (or lack there of) Simpson attempts to articulate. Basically, it boils down to filling the university with scores of international students, upward to 10K new students. The flagship is starting to sound more like a makeshift boat overloaded with refugees. Of course, the campus architect seems to have an equally bizzare view. Just grow, the campus, the region, the whole darn thing. That makes little sense given the mass exodus from the Buffalo region during the last century. So the formula proposed by the architect is for more sprawl and growth. He may even throw an SUV into the mix as an incentive for new faculty to join the crusade. Is that the best a UB president and architect can come up with (purge the socialists and fuel the growth machine with reckless abandon). I guess the folks at UB missed the financial crisis fueled by real estate speculation and unchecked growth. The people in Buffalo need to learn from history, in order to avoid repeating it.

6. rightwingprofessor - August 05, 2009 at 10:50 am

Interesting that this story doesn't talk to a single faculty member. Also no mention of whether Simpson and Provost Tripathi are planning to stick it out or are already on the job market looking for greener pastures. As for professor zarembka, the word "socialistic" or "socialism" are perfectly legitimate, they are not the rhetoric of the "extreme right" as you say. They are perfectly reasonable ways to describe the current system. Why should the student pay the same tuition to attend a prestigious research university like Stonybrook as to attend a mediocre 4-year teaching college?

7. 11295659 - August 06, 2009 at 08:43 am

Kudos to President Simpson and his staff for their efforts to return UB to the flag ship status visionaries led by Nelson Rockefeller had for it when it became a state university in the 1960s. Those who led that move at Buffalo sought to make UB a world class institution. Politics being politics, in time they were overpowered by those who preferred the comfort of mediocrity and by Albany bureaucrats intent on justifying their own existences by micro-managing UB and the other three universities at Albany, Binghamton and Stoy Brook.

8. davi2665 - August 06, 2009 at 10:20 am

Hats off to President Simpson for having a vision for revitalizing SUNY Buffalo. The SUNY system has languished for years with the death of a thousand cuts, and unfortunately has had to deal with a legislature that is dysfunctional, to say the least. The most recent tuition hike, from which the legislature took 80% for their own non-educational projects and payouts to their favorites, is both disgraceful and emblematic of the problems of the SUNY system. The SUNY flagship campuses and medical schools have never cooperated- rather, they squabble amongst each other for sparse resources, realizing that SUNY funding is a zero-sum game. Even in some of the SUNY system's most productive, internationally known endeavors, such as the Nano Center at Albany, others snipe and complain about the use of resources that are reaping incredible rewards for SUNY, New York, and the nation. It sounds as if some of the writers of comments would like to keep the SUNY system as a watered-down egalitarian system striving for mediocrity, rather than a system of entrepreneurial universities building strength for its students, the local economies, and the entire state. Academic success does not come from a socialist mentality. Of the revenue streams available for the SUNY universities (tuition, government appropriattions, philanthropy, grant revenues, and tech transfer/intellectual property), only the last category has any hope of making a quantum difference in quality, excellence, and outcomes. The other resources are more likely to diminish than increase. We can only hope that the legislature has enough insight to loosen the noose around the neck of the SUNY flagship universities and let them thrive.

9. 11298847 - August 06, 2009 at 12:08 pm

As someone intimately familiar with UB, I would agree that it is *NOT* first rate as an institutions, but it FAR from "exudes mediocrity". Holy cow! What are current students, faculty, and administrators to think about their choice of institution? Simpson and Provost Tripathi have been trying to implement higher standards for at least 5 years, but are constantly stymied by the status quo and the union (I am in favor of unions). I remember them coming to our faculty meetings and trying to start a "grass roots" approach to higher standards. After the meetings, the faculty would congregate and discuss how they weren't going to compromise their programs (by weeding out less qualified students) to appease Simpson. Thus, the status quo continues...

10. buffaloman - August 06, 2009 at 01:31 pm

Simpson and Tripathi have contributed to the status quo at UB and not fought it. Faculty governance and morale is at an all-time low at UB. Departments have taken regular internal budget cuts on top of State mandated cuts since Simpson's reign began. There has been constant pressure to increase enrollment from the administration while resources have been depleted. Simpson hasn't raised any necessary funds for his ambitious paper tiger of a plan. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.... It is well known that Simpson and Tripathi have been on the job market for a couple years. UB is just a stepping stone for them. So, now Simpson comes out and says what he really thinks about the university. He thinks UB is declining. I guess his 5 years of "leadership" has contributed to that decline. Now he is blaming his failures on socialism. What a joke. Obviously he has problems with Chancellor Zimpher's vision for the system and the urban focus she would like UB to pursue (i.e. Eds&Meds is out with the flagship idea). Simpson also seems a little envious of Zimpher's superior track record as a university president. Speed up your job hunt Simpson. Maybe a private school in Alabama or Mississippi will buy what you are selling (especially if it has a large endowment from the GOP).

11. barrylaw - August 06, 2009 at 08:06 pm

The reason had such a boming highech sector is that Bill Gates was from the area and he located icrosoft there.

12. jamesfoit - August 07, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I don't get it! In Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs 25% of the population live below the poverty level, 2nd only to Detroit. They have not had a Republican mayor since 1954. The Unions have destroyed industry after industry. The region is blessed with beautiful natural resources between Lake Erie and Niagara Falls. Why do the people continue to put those with no vision or plans to grow the region in power. Finally, UB gets a leader with a vision and proposals to improve the University and region and what happens? More of the same old... same old patronage to favorites, backbiting, and job protecting. So I don't understand how Democrats consider this "hope and change"! When I was an Economics major in the SUNY system, I was taught little of Milton Friedman and mostly about John Maynard Keynes. So we should not be surprised that Paul Zarembka and other supporters of "government can do it best" seem offended when President Simpson references the big government idea of socialism! It confounds common sense when the president of the faculty union thinks legislators (in NY as most states they're basically winners of a who spent the most contest) make better managers of University operations and growth than the professionals hired for the task. I especially don't understand why the president of any union is opposed to plans that create more jobs and increase funding for payrolls! Oh yeah, it goes back to the "who is in control of the masses and I get all the credit, you take all the blame" game. Buffaloman is a good name for anyone that would blame one person for "internal budget cuts on top of State mandated cuts" after knowing the state Assembly takes 80% of a 14% tuition increase! Also, "Faculty governance and morale is at an all-time low at UB." Well no kidding, the president of the union thinks bureaucrats at the other end of the state know whats best for the University. This happens every where that Freedom and Choice are stifled by power hungry elitists that become more corrupt everytime they are returned to public office. No doubt it is true and the Bible says it not in vain...When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules the people groan! Proverbs 29:2 Just look at what is happening at the Federal level! Maybe someday New Yorkers will take control of our state back from the Liberal elitists, but then again maybe 51% are happy living in mediocrity, abdicating our decisions and responsibility to bureacrats that live far, far away! Too bad Jack Kemp is gone, he would have helped!

13. buffaloman - August 09, 2009 at 04:18 pm

What has Simpson done at UB in the last 5 years. Nothing is the answer. He promises the world and delivers nothing. He is further from reaching the goals of the UB2020 plan now than he was the day it was created. Faculty numbers are down, enrollment is flat, and morale is rock bottom at UB. Every year Simpson assesses a 2% internal tax on all departments to fund his UB2020 initiative (i.e. to add layers of administrative jobs to his patronage pot). Now the State adds annual budget cuts on top of that. Simpson pressures all departments to increase enrollment (adding more students to departments with less funding). Now Simpson announces to the world that UB is on a slow decline. So, he acknowledges that UB has lost ground under his 'leadership' and he is essentially washing his hands to the university. What does Simpson want to do with the Assembly Bill 2020. He wants to swap land and leases at UB to leverage construction projects on the medical campus. He also wants to increase tuition in order to raise money for the same. No investment in jobs or students' education, just draining the university in order to finance the renovation of downtown buildings like the old Trico building UB bought above market value a few years ago. In Simpson's world, UB is just a bank account to drain for real estate speculation in Buffalo. Simpson and his campus architect are pursuing their own goal of renovating old buildings in Buffalo at the expence of the SUNY system, students, and faculty. I guess they will buy the old Statler hotel at auction next and raise tuition to finance its renovation too. Under Simpson, UB has been reduced to being a speculative real estate business financed with proposed tuition hikes and the selling off of university property. Simpson should go work for Donald Trump, and drop the charade of representing higher education.

14. zarembka - August 10, 2009 at 11:57 am

-->"Women Denied Tenure at Greater Rates Than Men at SUNY-Buffalo" ALSO: INSIDE HIGHER ED, "Gender Bias at SUNY-Buffalo?" (July 6, 2009) -- www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/07/06/tenure

15. vfichera - August 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

One might have hoped to have a student perspective on the conditions of the physical plant at the University at Buffalo. For example, the CHE might have interviewed one of the wheel-chaired student plaintifs in this ADA case: http://www.povertylaw.org/poverty-law-library/case/55500/55544/55544A.pdf (the incidents detailed in this Federal complaint make for fascinating reading)-- one of whom is still a student at the university, I believe and another, a practicing attorney. Or the CHE might have asked whether the August 2003 settlement in that Federal case (http://www.povertylaw.org/poverty-law-library/case/55500/55544/55544D.pdf) has resulted in any concrete (pun intended) improvement in campus accessibility. Indeed, the court-ordered "audit" may have been completed, but where on the priorities list of the President in this "Bold Vision" is the the student with disabilities -- or any student "access" issue, for that matter?

16. buffaloman - August 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

A few more thoughts on why Simpson will continue to fail at UB. 1) Simpson's first initiative at UB was to centralize IT at UB, as mentioned in the article. This has turned out to be a huge failure which has shifted the cost of IT services to faculty in the name of cost cutting. UB no longer provides faculty with IT support. Most faculty must pay out of pocket for software, IT support, and other services that result in research productivity. UB has privatized IT. Concerns are now rampant that faculty will have to start paying for their office computers and even the use of university facilities. 2) Simpson is the most aloof president in UB history, insulated in layers of administrative staff. He is inaccessible and only focused on wheeling and dealing in the real estate and political circles of Buffalo. Faculty know that to disagree publically with the administration is a sure way to be blacklisted. Simpson prefers groupthink to intelectual exchange. He has also stacked his administration with refugees and terminal administrators from the California system who snub the university and bask in their own insulated elite world. The mentality among this group of UB administrators is that the way to build the university is to purge existing faculty and replace them with their carbon copies holding UC degrees. Stagnant thinking and stagnation as a result. 3) Simpson has bought into his architect's idea that UB is a physical development tool first and an educational instution second. In this world, the university is viewed as required to rebuild downtown Buffalo, since it is the cause of the city's decline (the popular mythology is that UB's suburban campus led to the city's demise). As a result, Simpson is intent on closing the main campus of the university and rebuilding it as a leaner, meaner medical school in downtown Buffalo. The only role nonmedical program will fill in Simpson's model will be mass education along the University of Phoenix model to subsidize his science schools.

17. buffalomaine - August 12, 2009 at 11:01 am

As a UB alumnus, Western New York native, and college professor I found this piece - and the subsequent comments - simultaneously hopeful and disheartening. New York State has to be one of the most disfunctional states when it comes to governance, perhaps second only to California. Why anyone would think that the state legislature can do a better job at managing things than people in Buffalo (innanimate objects could do a better job) is beyond me, particularly considering their recent behavior. In regard to public-private partnerships, I loathe corporatism and agree Simpson's use of the term "socialistic" was uncalled for. But public-private partnerships are what have allowed places like the University of Maryland - Baltimore County (UMBC) to create technology incubators (over a decade ago) that have helped revitalize a region, bringing in new companies and jobs. WNY is ripe for this as Shibley points out. The wind farms already in place are just one example of the types of resources that can be sustainably developed with help from the university. UB is one of the (perhaps the single) largest employer in WNY. It has the potential to pump billions of dollars annually into the local economy if people would only stop needless squabbling. As for Shibley, I took a class from him when I was at UB and can't fathom him supporting needless sprawl, certainly no more than the ridiculous sprawl one sees when driving through the eastern suburbs like Lancaster, Elma, and Alden where developments continue to pop up on farm land (despite a supposedly dying economy). As far as the university is concerned, it has been my impression that it has been attempting to beef up its presence within the city limits. As for tuition costs, I believe in the SUNY aim (I'm dreading the cost of sending my own kids to college a decade from now, even to a state school), but why does that preclude some sort of tiered system as long as you ensure that there is someplace affordable to go for everyone? Simpson is correct in that it costs a whole lot more to run a large university (at one time many of the buildings at UB had a sign near their entrance listing how much the annual heating cost was for that building - it's a lot of money). Albany, Stony Brook, and Binghamton have legitimate claims, but, aside from Stony Brook, they don't expend the research dollars UB does. With all that said, one of the reasons Buffalo - and WNY - has been mired in a downturn for so long is the defeatist attitudes of so many of the people (many of my friends and relatives included). One poster first notes that Simpson has done nothing for UB but then seemingly bemoans the fact that he's using UB as a stepping stone. If you're not pleased with the job he's doing you should be glad he's thinking of leaving. Let's just say I think the crab metaphor could apply to WNY as well as to the SUNY system. Instead of helping each other fulfill their potential, they're tearing each other down leaving nothing but a long, slow decline. I live in Maine now. Here in Maine, while we do have plenty of internal squabbling, if something needs to get done we do it. It's called good old Yankee pragmatism and, as corny as it is, reminds me of a quote from The Empire Strikes Back in which Yoda said "Do, or do not. There is no try."

18. gardellajoe - August 12, 2009 at 05:11 pm

I believe socialism is good, and my politics are left wing. I also think my own work as a faculty member has gained a deep knowledge of the Buffalo community and UB. That said, I do support John Simpson's plans to expand and the UB2020 legislation. I'm also a union supporter, but feel that the faculty union is simply defending the status quo because it's easier than dealing with the reality of creating a great university that New Yorkers deserve. I have never felt that the UUP was here for UB faculty, it's a system that is set up, I think, to support the conditions of a large majority of faculty at smaller SUNY schools. The contracts do not provide meaningful faculty pay for accomplishments by research faculty in a research university. I've accepted that over my 28 years at UB. But to say that they have some better view of how UB should grow, let's hear it. I think they are out of touch. The notion that differential tuition has to be the end of a state institution, or that public private partnerships are bad for a public institution (when NY State's support for SUNY continues to shrink) is particularly naive. Phil Smith views don't represent the faculty at UB who are interested in connecting with the community and really affecting the local economy, jobs and quality of life. Simpson has consulted with faculty to help articulate an aggressive vision of doing that, and it requires substantial support for growth. It might be mentioned that the mediocrity of SUNY central planning has put us (and Stony Brook, and Binghamton, and everywhere else in SUNY that I have visited) into a mediocre state. Access, please, in a state that funds students to go to private schools? And the notion that our legislature, the most dysfunctional in the US, has a better view of managing a major research university and protects the students, again. Please. Tuition was raised this year and 90% kept to help balance the budget. So much for protecting students. The comment from our friend in Maine is spot on. Progressives need to engage into this plan for growth, and to benefit WNY, to make it equitable, but the UUP and those who don't support this legislation have not offered any alternative to produce excellence. Excellence can benefit the region and be equitable and accessible. The notion of equal tuition at UB and Erie Community College is not rational. Tiered tuition can be dealt with for access, as I mentioned, considering that the state offers tuition support for residents to attend private schools. If NY was truly interested in excellence in SUNY it would dismantle SUNY central, a pot full of incompetence and mediocrity, and spend the money at SUNY campuses. But that would require giving up central control. I believe New York state central planning is the last bastion of Stalinism in the US ;-). it has led us to the mediocrity we have. Breaking that cycle is what is needed, not just for UB but for all SUNY campuses. And ditto on Yoda.

19. retiredoldguy - August 12, 2009 at 08:06 pm

I retired from UB after 30+ years. Also, I'm a graduate of UB and so is my wife and children and as such, I believe that I have the credentials, financial investment and right to comment on the article and subsequent comments. In my years of employment I came to realize one simple fact. Yes, UB is a wonderful, great and secure place to work. One has only establish one's tenure (both faculty and professional staff) and one can cruise along in one's career with a minimum, if any, effort. UB has buildings full of offices containing many who are simply enjoying this wonderful, secure quality of life. Many faculty and staff see UB and it's loose academic and research requirements solely as a 9 to 5 job and as such, they easily become comfortable with the great (often inflated) salaries, cheap housing and nominal academic demands and they simply hunker down, do little as possible and direct their remaining intellect towards complaining about how bad they have it at UB. Many established /faculty researchers and younger facuty or staff who are aggressive and want to build their careers generally become alienated by this lifestyle and ultimately move on to institutions that are known for rewarding commintment and intensity. I remember talking to one very bright, extremely productive young faculty who was offered tenure and substantial resources at a major university. This university had often raided UB for such researchers and he told me that the institution finds UB to be one of their best resources for quality faculty. Question this? Then just poll our many peer institutions who have raided our departments of their best and brightest young faculty and staff. Finally, those of our brightest who like WNY and decide to stay at UB often find themselves fighting a neverending battle against academic and support mediocricy only to become anomic after years of frustrations and simply give up and go with the flow. A few suggestions for UB governance: 1) Compare IT staff salaries with faculty salaries. This should demonstrate which is more important at UB, the bureaucracies and support infrastructures or the the academic infrastructures. 2) Take a walk in the academic core during the evening. The place is empty. Again, UB is a 9 to 5 place for students and faculty alike. 3) Eliminate the present merit system and actually build a system that rewards productivity. 4) Build a "real" faculty/staff mentoring program so that our newest faculty aren't spending the first years of their UB employment spinning their wheels. 5) Rather than moving many of the brightest IT staff away from the nodes, UB should be nurturing working partnerships between these staff and research oriented faculty. UB can't get additional faculty, yet governance chooses to place its brightest research and teaching oriented staff into mundane, mindless IT support positions in an already bloated, costly infrastructure. 6) UB is a research institution? If this is true then take laboratories and office complexes away from those faculty who haven't produced in years and reallocate these resources to the faculty and researchers who are actually producing something. Rewarding those who produce is good and space is always been a valued commodity at UB. 7) Start and build a substantial PI organization. If you bring these people together both academically and socially, ideas and research partnerships will be born. It seems that the only recognition that PI's get is when governence believes that researchers should contribute more to the school's coffers. 8) Eliminate the mindset that there can't be University and Industry partnerships because there simply isn't any worthy industry left in Buffalo to partner. Anyone ever visit the industrial base in State College Pa.? I wonder about their partnership dollars! 9) Rebuild Milliard Fillmore College. Many of UB's staunchest supporters graduated from "MFC". MFC will fill those empty evening hour classrooms with FTE's and provide UB with a community whose membership actually wants to be on campus and get an education. In the old days UB was the university for the state and the nation and MFC belonged to Buffalo and the WNY community. 10) Finally, in the old days UB didn't have all those spiffy modern buildings (remember Wende Hall) nor did it have those manhour (aka moneypit) intensive planning programs that do nothing but get renamed from president to president over the years. UB needs to rebuild its notion of community. There are many books in the library on community. I suspect that there are a few sociologists or anthropologists or even urban planners on campus that could educate governance and nurture the community process. Get the academically qualified bureaucrats out of their offices and other covies of bureacracies and into the classrooms. When Bob Ketter was president he taught, did reserach and most importantly, he made himself available to students, faculty and staff. One last comment, stop blaming New York for UB's problems as I suspect that every major academic institution has to deal with its own New York State. UB is full of intelligent, well education people who should be able to find and contribute to solutions to UB's problems.

20. vfichera - August 12, 2009 at 11:08 pm

buffalomaine: "Albany, Stony Brook, and Binghamton have legitimate claims, but, aside from Stony Brook, they don't expend the research dollars UB does." Well, actually, it's hard to really defend _ALL of SUNY_ in the research area. The AUTM U.S. Licensing Survey FY 2007 reveals that the entire SUNY system (the Research Foundation) spent significantly more on research than Stanford (almost $82 million more) but with much less to show for it in the way of inventions: FY2007 new patent applications, Stanford 256, SUNY 136 (http://chronicle.com/article/Licensing-RevenuesPate/14580/ from http://www.autm.net/AM/Template.cfm?Section=FY_2007_Licensing_Activity_Survey&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=2805). While patent activity is just one parameter of research success, nevertheless, the citizens of the State of New York might well ask, just what happens to the monies for research in SUNY research centers.

21. buffaloman - August 12, 2009 at 11:28 pm

retiredoldguy, hit most of the issues on the head. If you are in the upper caste at UB (i.e. administration, IT, the professors with 100K plus salaries), you can kick your feet up and enjoy the free ride. If you are in the lower caste (i.e. young, productive faculty), write off UB and look for a good job elsewhere. All of UB's priorities are distorted and it suffers from a lack of leadership (particularly academic leadership) from top down. Simpson's propaganda machine invested heavily in a bogus UB2020 planning process where hand picked cronies endorsed his consultant's plan. His other venture was a competition with another major employer in Buffalo (Wegman's Grocery Store) over what was the best place to work in western NY. Needless to say, the grocery store ranked higher than UB. While Simpson goes out and actively creates PR for his paper tiger of a presidency, he makes no effort to undertake real 360 evaluations of the campus. Institutional research and HR are more focused on blowing sunshine up Simpson's rear end than providing the boss with critical insights from the lower castes at UB. The boss prefers show trials to real institutional reform. It is ironic that Simpson takes such a transparent and overtly right-wing stance against the socialists. His neo-red-scare is awfully sad indeed. But, that is about all a tyrant can pull out of his silly hat. Simpson lost the lower castes at UB with this article in the Chronicle. Whether you are a socialist or just a productive academic, UB is not a good place to have open and honest exchanges of ideas. Simpson's strawman is boring and he is irrelevant now.

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