Spitzer discusses plan to revitalize SUNY at campus visit

Editor's note: Please see Thursday's issue of The Lamron for coverage of the Geneseo community's response to news of the alleged link between the governor and a prostitution ring.

A crowd of state troopers, media reporters and TV cameras greeted Gov. Eliot Spitzer when he arrived at Geneseo yesterday to deliver his proposal for an endowment for public higher education in New York.

Spitzer arrived at around 10:30 a.m. and was greeted by President Christopher Dahl, who took the next half-hour to lead Spitzer through the $53 million Integrated Science Center and visit, among other advanced instruments, the wave tank and particle accelerator, as well as students and faculty engaged in research.

At 11 a.m., Dahl and Spitzer walked into the packed Union Ballroom to meet an audience of several hundred students, faculty, staff, village officials and political leaders. Dahl introduced the governor and briefly explained the focus of the event.

Dahl explained that the $4 billion endowment Spitzer is proposing is intended to support the SUNY and CUNY systems and help fund the hiring of 2,000 full-time faculty and 250 eminent scholars as recommended by the Commission on Higher Education that Spitzer established in May 2007.

According to Dahl, the endowment would be pivotal for the aspirations of Geneseo students and faculty.

"At this point in history, Geneseo is at a tipping point," Dahl said. "We think we are poised to be the premiere public liberal arts college in the nation…What this institution needs, however, is the kind of support that will push us over the top."

Spitzer then took the podium, and began his approximately 20-minute address with a reflection on his own college career, through which he was known for missing out on class. He recalled a time as state attorney general when he returned to speak at Harvard Law School, his alma mater, and a professor greeted him by saying, "Nice to see you here today. You never used to come when you were a student."

Humor aside, Spitzer recognized the fundamental importance of education and commended Geneseo students for their achievements.

"You are a gem by any standard," he said, "and I want to applaud you for what you do… But we're here to do even better. There is a moral imperative to education. We have got to invest in the progress of ideas."

Spitzer outlined the economic argument for the proposed endowment, emphasizing the importance of, "creating in New York State the center where people want to bring their capital."

He explained that CEOs invariably invest most where there are the greatest universities, as they represent the best sources for new ideas.

"If we do not compete and outperform every other place in the world," Spitzer said, "we will fail."

Spitzer also discussed upstate economic development, for which he plans to invest $1 billion.

Outcomes of the SUNY endowment are widespread, including greater access to public universities, lower tuition, better technology and a reduced student-to-faculty ratio.

"This is the sort of investment that pays dividends on every level," Spitzer said.

Following the governor's address, a panel of four spoke for a few minutes each. Ruel McKnight, a chemistry professor who mentors students for jobs in the biochemical industry, further validated the importance of the proposal.

"We need to attract a diverse set of individuals," he said, "from diverse backgrounds and experiences."

Senior biology major Mehr Qureshi, a Geneseo student who was recently accepted into the University of Rochester for medical school, presented a student perspective.

"The time is right to invest more resources for students," she said.

Dan Elliot, the student-body president at Monroe Community College, spoke on behalf of the community colleges that will benefit from this endowment, asserting that many successful students from MCC move on to Geneseo and achieve other degrees of higher education.

Finally, Bob Boyd, the former senior vice president of HSBC in Rochester and current professor of business at Geneseo, emphasized the message once more.

"This endowment and revitalization of upstate is critical," he said. "The intellectual capacity that universities bring to the state is critical. You can't separate the two."

Nelson Rockefeller was the last governor to visit Geneseo's campus, and according to Dahl in Wednesday's Democrat and Chronicle, "Not since the days of Nelson Rockefeller has there been a governor so committed to higher education...It's a bold proposal...future-oriented and far-reaching…and exactly what we need."