Fred Kowal: SUNY Under A Microscope

Oct 25, 2016

Corruption. Fraud. Bribery

A bid-rigging scandal that involved SUNY Polytechnic Institute and other upstate nanotechnology development projects. The result: federal charges leveled against nine people, including Alain Kaloyeros, the now former president of SUNY Poly.

Shocked? Yes, I was. Angry? You bet.

It shouldn’t have happened. We must ensure it never happens again. And we cannot let this scandal be associated with the good work that goes on in our University.

That’s why the time has come for full transparency at SUNY, and especially at the SUNY Research Foundation and individual campus foundations—for a number of reasons.

First, knowing a lot more about the inner workings of these cloaked entities would allow us to ascertain exactly how they further the mission of SUNY, which is, and I quote, “to provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access, fully representative of all segments of the population in a complete range of academic, professional and vocational postsecondary programs.”

Are the foundations serving the education mission of SUNY? To what extent? Are monies going to support what happens in the classroom, where our students are learning?

We know very little of what goes on behind the doors of these foundations, even though hundreds of millions of state dollars flow through them. The Research Foundation and campus foundations have avoided public scrutiny by claiming to be private organizations. Yet, they control net assets of about $1.8 billion, much of it expended without restrictions or public oversight.

Second, what about accountability? Simple. There is none and there will continue to be none unless and until there is full transparency at SUNY and its college and university foundations.

Many ideas for change have surfaced as a result of the SUNY Poly bid-rigging scandal. Perhaps it’s time to give the state comptroller audit power and oversight over these pseudo-public entities, and over SUNY procurement procedures and spending on outside consultants.

Nearly 300 delegates at our 2016 Fall Delegate Assembly agree. Earlier this month, they unanimously passed a resolution calling for full transparency at SUNY.

UUP will be working harder than ever this year and through 2017 to advocate for legislation to create a mechanism for SUNY transparency—transparency that we believe would have helped prevent the SUNY Poly scandal.

We’ve seen enough over the past few weeks to recognize just how little we know about the inner workings of SUNY, its Research Foundation and its campus foundations. Anything less than full transparency at SUNY is just not enough.

SUNY’s reputation as the nation’ premier public higher education system swings in the balance.  

The education of our University’s students cannot be harmed by a misplaced need for secrecy in SUNY’s Research Foundation and its campus foundations. We must be certain that the inner workings of these entities are transparent. Only then can we ensure that these foundations are operating in the best interest of SUNY, its students and dedicated faculty and staff. 

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.

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