SUNY May Scale Back Top Legislative Priority and Seek Only Limited Autonomy From State

December 02, 2010

Rebuffed in her efforts this year to win more autonomy for the State University of New York, the system's chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, is considering advocating a scaled-back approach during the coming legislative session.

In this year's legislative session, Ms. Zimpher and her staff persuaded Gov. David A. Paterson to include a package of regulatory reforms that the state system argued would allow it to operate more efficiently and would offset the loss of state appropriations. Those changes included giving the system more control over tuition, purchasing, leasing property, and entering into partnerships with private companies.

All of those changes were opposed by the politically powerful union that represents staff members at the 64-campus system. The Legislature not only rejected all of the proposals, but also cut the system's appropriations by more than $200-million.

Michael C. Trunzo, vice chancellor for government relations at SUNY, said on Thursday that the system would now consider shelving much of the package of regulatory changes and would work to build better relationships with the unions and with lawmakers. Mr. Trunzo spoke at a conference of higher-education lobbyists in Austin, Tex.

Instead of seeking the ability to set different tuition rates for different campuses, for example, the system may propose a regular, moderate multiyear increase in tuition on all campuses. Part of that increase would then be used to increase financial aid for students whose families earn too much to qualify for the state's Tuition Assistance Plan, he said.

The system would largely abandon the request to enter more easily into public-private partnerships, he said, and instead seek approval for a private housing development for senior citizens on the campus of Purchase College, Mr. Trunzo said.

The previous proposal to free the system from some state procurement rules may be limited to the purchase of goods and exclude contracts for services, he said.

The new proposals have yet to be finalized and must be approved by SUNY's Board of Trustees in order to go forward, Mr. Trunzo said. And the issues, he added, have yet to be vetted by the unions, whose support will be necessary for the measures to have any chance of passage in New York's infamously fractious Legislature. "We don't want a fight [with the unions] as we walk in the door," he said.

Officials from Ms. Zimpher's office stressed that Mr. Trunzo was not speaking on behalf of the system and that the specifics of the system's legislative agenda have not been finalized.

"SUNY has not shelved anything," said Monica Rimai, a senior vice chancellor and the system's chief operating officer. "We are still developing our legislative strategy, and it is premature to suggest that we have decided what direction that will take."