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Fred Kowal: NY25 - A Vision For The Future

In 2011, the State University of New York and the Office of the Governor launched “SUNY 2020,” a long-range plan to promote SUNY as a catalyst for regional economic development and affordable education.

Well, it’s 2020. What’s next for our state university?

SUNY’s leadership doesn’t seem to have a vision or plan for the University’s future—at least one that UUP has seen. As the union that represents more than 37,000 SUNY academics and professionals, UUP believes it’s necessary that SUNY be at the forefront as we work to build a common future for all New Yorkers.

That’s why UUP has produced NY25, an aggressive, aspirational policy package keyed to achieving measurable goals for SUNY by 2025. NY25 will keep SUNY accessible, promote the health of all New Yorkers, create a sustainable future for our campuses, increase faculty diversity, and establish long-term, reliable resources for public higher education.

To reach the full potential for SUNY’s future, we must set aspirational goals. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced plans that sounded audacious to most, unrealistic to some, and impossible to a few: he committed the United States to landing a human being on the moon.

Like President Kennedy’s pledge—at a time when infrastructure and science weren’t capable of accomplishing the goal—NY25 calls on SUNY to aspire to a set of goals to reach by 2025.

Some will see our goals as audacious, unrealistic or impossible. So be it. For UUP, however, the danger of not being ambitious and aspirational is much more of a threat to our society.

UUP is presenting these proposals because they are necessary. Our students deserve a system that looks to the future, and we are willing to fight and work for it.

NY25 promotes access to high-quality education. For NY25 to succeed, SUNY must become the people’s university, and the state must make SUNY a priority, allocating funds appropriately to invest in the future.  

Currently, students cover 64% of direct state support for SUNY through tuition and fees. We are veering dangerously close to becoming a private university with some public funding. That’s why the first proposal in NY25 is to reduce the students’ share of costs to 25% by 2025.

For SUNY to truly become the people’s university, we must provide access for every New Yorker. That’s why NY25 proposes that all New York residents over the age of 16 should have access to one free, SUNY-faculty-led course every two years.

Speaking of opportunity, UUP has been a longtime advocate for SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program. Every year, the EOP budget is cut, and we fight just to restore it back to the previous year’s level. This cycle must end. NY25 calls to aggressively expand EOP by doubling the number of students, staff and funding by 2025.

Our state has always been a prime destination for immigrants, and our diversity continues to grow in the 21st century. Public higher education should reflect the mosaic that is our citizenry and our students. We propose that at least 25% of faculty and staff positions in SUNY be filled by individuals who are African American, Native American and Latinx by 2025. SUNY has been committed to this work through the PRODiG program, but more must be done.

This is just the beginning. In the coming weeks, we will lay out NY25 proposals for environmental sustainability, health care and innovative funding resources.

We’ve heard that SUNY’s role is to be an economic engine for the communities that host its campuses. Other voices call on SUNY to be a place where individuals are trained for the jobs of “tomorrow.” Still others see SUNY as the place where students learn citizenship values—like tolerance, activism, and civic engagement.

The long-term goal for NY 25 is to set SUNY as the driving force in making our society more humane and more sustainable. We invite our state’s elected leaders and the leadership of SUNY to join us—along with all New Yorkers.

This is everyone’s university. Let’s make it a central part of our common future.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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