On Nov. 19, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher held a Web cast press conference for members of student media organizations at SUNY colleges and universities.
Zimpher spent over an hour answering students' e-mail questions, which were read by Melody Mercedes, president of the SUNY Student Assembly. Questions addressed such issues as the developing 10-year SUNY Strategic Plan, the state's fiscal crisis and its effects on the SUNY budget, "Generation SUNY," financial aid and the Tuition Assistance Program, hiring freezes, transfer articulation, globalization, and environmental sustainability.
Zimpher established a foundational theme early on, noting, "We are offering excellence in education that is accessible and affordable." She expressed that it is both her personal goal and the goal of SUNY to maintain and guarantee this promise.
"There's been a significant underfunding of higher public education," Zimpher said, acknowledging the cuts made to the SUNY system by Gov. David Paterson.
Zimpher said that the fundamental guiding principles of the Strategic Plan were born out of economic realities.
"We will become New York's job creators," she said. She added that if SUNY schools help the state through its fiscal crisis and prove to be a worthy investment, the state will invest in the system, the students and the future.
The system is currently facing a mid-year cut of approximately $90 million. In response, Zimpher has created a budget task force for the first time in SUNY's history. The task force will operate under the guiding principle that, "Allocation of cuts must be equitable, fair and preserve the student experience."
The chancellor also talked about how some colleges are bridging their budgetary gaps with reserve funds and asking the state for regulatory relief, as well as how some schools are adding to budget discussions by offering up models of which cuts are least detrimental to their core missions.
Emphasizing the importance of SUNY students, Zimpher said that the SUNY system is one in which "students are at the center." She encouraged students to contribute to the system through "Generation SUNY," a public discussion and social media initiative, which students can access through networks like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Several students brought up the issue of tuition increases - there have been two in the past 15 years, most recently a $310-per-semester increase that began last semester.
"I don't know if we'll ever be able to escape the tuition increase mode," Zimpher said. "Any increase is tethered to the lowest index we can justify."
An often-heard complaint by students is that a large percentage of tuition dollars are sent to state coffers where they may be allocated for non-educational purposes.
"It is 100 percent our business to ensure tuition dollars go back to the campuses to serve the students who pay the tuition," Zimpher said in response. She also said that the SUNY system does not have regulatory relief to increase out-of-state tuition as an income-boosting measure.
Zimpher referred to the Strategic Plan, which is still under development, as "one of the most important things we're doing for the state of New York."
The plan is available online at suny.edu/strategicplan.