SUNY empowerment will be back in the new year

Dec 21, 2010

Back in August the legislature tabled measures that would have given the SUNY system more autonomy. But SUNY officials say they'll be back - they just don't know when, or in what form. 

SUNY's Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, lobbied hard for legislation, which included the ability to generate additional revenue to fill growing gaps in SUNY's budget. The Empowerment Act would have given SUNY more freedom to enter into public-private partnerships, set and raise tuition rates, and purchase goods and services.

Citing Michael Trunzo, vice chancellor for government relations for SUNY, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this month that the plan would be dramatically scaled back when reintroduced in the next legislative session. But SUNY is still holding its cards close to its chest.

SUNY spokespersons have distanced themselves from Trunzo's remarks. Speaking last week, chancellor Zimpher said talks were still underway to formulate a version of the Empowerment Act that the legislature could accept:

"We don't know what the references will be this year, but we're  working closely with the governor's staff and other  stakeholders to see how we can get enough to generate some revenue to close that gap."

C. Peter Magrath, interim president of SUNY's Binghamton campus, Binghamton University, told the Innovation Trail that Zimpher will bring back the Empowerment Act, "but it probably will be recast in certain forms ... It certainly will include greater flexibility for us to do business partnerships and stuff like that, which we absolutely have to do. I don't know exactly how she's going to package it on the tuition issue."

The possibility of SUNY campuses instituting regular tuition increases and differential tuition (different tuition rates for different programs) was a major sticking point in August.

As the Trail's Zack Seward reported from Rochester, Zimpher has been on a tour around the state to promote the new Power of SUNY agenda. The plan's six items, including "SUNY and the Entrepreneurial Century" and "SUNY and the Vibrant Community" highlight areas where SUNY has potential to help the state make economic strides (which the state could really use right now).

SUNY spokesman, Morgan Hook, told the Trail that all aspects of the plan are still on the table. The chancellor is in talks with all 64 campus presidents and has left open the possibility that a plan will be put up for a vote with SUNY's Board of Trustees when it next meets on January 11.