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Editorial: Give SUNYs a little freedom

Friday, April 29, 2011
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University at Albany officials are absolutely right to be clamoring for inclusion in any deal between the state Legislature and university system that would give the University at Buffalo, and perhaps the system’s two other “university centers,” more independence.

None of the SUNY campuses is currently empowered to do something like set its own tuition or lease its land for public-private partnerships. Yet these are the things that most states let their universities do, and it not only helps them attract top students and corporate researchers, but makes them more valuable to the communities they’re located in. (Think Research Triangle near the University of North Carolina or Silicon Valley near the Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Davis campuses of the University of California.)

Lawmakers in the economically depressed Buffalo area have been after the state Legislature for years to help the SUNY campus in their city foster these lucrative public-private partnerships, and the so-called UB2020 bill was born of that movement. An attempt to get it passed failed last year, but the Senate passed a version in early March.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to recognize this is an idea whose time has come, and has scheduled a UB2020 summit for next month. It’s vitally important that he include Albany — along with the SUNY’s system’s other top-tier schools, Stony Brook and Binghamton — in the discussions. Those schools, and their communities, could benefit, too.

While some legitimate concerns have been raised about things like unbridled commercial use of the campuses and tuition hikes that might render the system’s elite campuses unaffordable, they hardly seem like deal-breakers. Let the governor create some kind of bipartisan commission that sets guidelines for the campuses so they can’t go completely rogue. But give them at least a little more freedom to shape their own destinies, and keep an eye on things to see what develops.

 
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