Staff Editorial: Spitzer's endowment plan is the right move

It's no secret that the SUNY and CUNY systems have been chronically underfunded for years. Gov. Eliot Spitzer, during his visit to campus Wednesday, presented his plan to change that.

The governor spoke about his plan to create a $4 billion higher-education endowment fund for the SUNY and CUNY systems, one that would, each year, invest money directly into the systems as well as back into the fund. It is, as Spitzer put it, a fund that "pays dividends on every level."

An important element of the fund is its stability: It won't be subject to a changing economy or political atmosphere.

The endowment-fund idea arose from the governor's Commission on Higher Education, which he created in May 2007. The commission's Dec. 17 report outlined a number of suggestions for improving and strengthening SUNY and CUNY. While the governor is under no obligation to follow through with the many recommendations, the fact that he created the commission and is advocating the endowment fund is clear evidence of his unequivocal support for this vital system that sustains and fosters growth in the state.

There is no question that the endowment is the right thing to create. The money would fund the hiring of 2,000 new, full-time faculty (one of the commission's recommendations, and desperately needed in the era of more and more adjuncts), as well as the hiring of 250 eminent scholars. These "superscholars," as President Dahl called them, are important in that they attract research dollars for the system, and their presence facilitates the development of more scholars.

SUNY and CUNY are an investment in New York's future, and are extremely important in attracting capital investments to strengthen the ever-shaky upstate economy. While there is no easy answer as to where the money will come from (it's been suggested some will come from the State Lottery), the long-term benefits of such a fund are numerous, and far outweigh the short-term sacrifices.

Spitzer said, however, that the endowment fund will not happen without the support of state residents. As the beneficiaries of a strong, public, liberal-arts education that costs a fraction of a private one, there is no reason why students should not rally to this cause. SUNY and CUNY must be strengthened, and the endowment fund is one of the ways to do it.