Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger sat down with Pipe Dream on Wednesday to evaluate his first semester on the job. He gave his impressions of the University so far, offered his take on NYSUNY 2020 and discussed where he hopes to take BU in the future.
Pipe Dream: After spending a semester here, are you surprised by what you found here?
Harvey Stenger: Now I’m saying I’m surprised. It’s not just that we have a great university, great professors, great academics, we’ve got students who come here with this other expectation of what they can do on this campus. I was at Cornell a couple of weeks ago, and I had to walk to my car and everyone was just marching. I came back here around 7 at night and I went to my office and I looked outside and everyone was playing. Everyone was having fun. Then I go to the award ceremonies and I’m blown away by the community service. The kinds of things that students want to do here outside of the classroom blows me away. It’s this special feeling that Binghamton students have this unique feature that attracts more students like them to come here. They don’t just want to come to college to get a degree; they want to come here to learn how to make a difference.
PD: What do you think about the faculty?
HS: I have met almost all the faculty now. The passion of the faculty is the other thing that’s incredible here. It’s not just passion about their discipline. Here, they love their research, but they’re very passionate about the success of their students.
PD: What are some immediate issues that you think need to be addressed?
HS: We need to provide students with more opportunities to be successful after they graduate. Getting a job is really hard. I’m going to send out a Request for Proposals soon to create new masters programs that can help students stay for one more year, maybe do a 3/2 and move themselves from the liberal arts degree to a career more quickly. I’ve been talking to the different departments and asking them, “Do you think that in your field there is a master’s degree that can help our students take the next step?”
PD: Are you trying to change anything in terms of admissions and recruiting?
HS: We’re missing students who are very good where we’re not offering them anything special. The top students who come here get admission. No special financial aid. No special programs. We don’t want to have an honors college. We’re already so good that our average student would be an honors student at most universities. The idea that came out [of discussions] was something called the President’s Scholars. There will be around 120 students in this first class. There will be some special attention. There will be mentoring by senior administrators and there will be special events that we plan for them. Right now there’s no scholarships attached to that, but I really would like to work with our alums to find scholarships for that group of students to meet their unmet need.
PD: It seems like much of NYSUNY 2020 is about research and job growth. What about the students?
HS: It’s packaged in a way that makes it seem like we’re all about science, engineering and creating jobs. I completely understand that. It is two pieces. It is about expanding green energy research, but it is also growing a smarter, bigger, better-taught university. It’s growth to improve quality. Not growth for growth’s sake.
PD: What do you think about the funding that the State is guaranteeing Binghamton under NYSUNY 2020? Last we checked the State provides around 30 percent of the University’s total budget.
HS: That money pays the faculty, it heats the buildings, it takes care of the maintenance. The other 70 percent is research grants and contracts, housing dormitories, tuition. That 30 percent really does support our core mission. Our research expenditures are around $38 million a year, so that’s on top of all of this. If [the grants] all went away, we wouldn’t have some graduate students, we wouldn’t have some labs operating, but we’d still have all of the professors. None of the professor’s salaries are paid out of that, none of the buildings are maintained out of those funds.
PD: Do you trust Albany to maintain the funding they promised under NYSUNY 2020?
HS: Trust is very important. Albany needs to build a sense of trust with its population. Cuomo made a promise, the legislature made a promise, we’re not going to cut the SUNY budget, and everyone said ‘sure wait until next year.’ So April came and they didn’t cut us, so we made it. So one year out of the five, we made it. There’s enough people in the legislature who are logical.
— This interview was conducted by Nate Fleming and Daniel S. Weintraub and has been edited for length and clarity.