New York State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and New York State Sen. Fred Akshar have responded with concern to New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to not designate Binghamton University and University at Albany as flagship universities.

On Jan. 5, 2022, in her first State of the State Address, Hochul announced her plan to make the SUNY system the best statewide public education system in the nation. This included her designating the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University as flagship universities, and Binghamton University and the University at Albany as nation-leading research and teaching universities.

By declaring University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University as flagship universities, Hochul said she plans to make them world-class research institutions that will rank in the top-20 public universities nationally for research expenditure. To start, each university will receive funding for a new building to house some of their science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and engineering programs.

Lupardo and Akshar responded to Hochul’s announcement in a joint letter of concern. Lupardo elaborated on her position in an email, saying the flagship designations will make it harder for BU to secure top students and research funding.

“[University at] Buffalo and Stony Brook [University] may have been selected because they are members of the Association of American Universities,” Lupardo wrote. “Regardless, all four University Centers are widely respected R1 research universities. BU consistently receives the highest rankings of any SUNY school, has the highest graduation rate and largest growth of enrollment of the four centers. In response to this proposal, I sent a letter with Sen. Akshar to Gov. Hochul outlining our concerns with the ‘flagship’ proposal. We would support creating four flagships or none at all.”

Akshar said he agreed with Lupardo, writing in an email that he believes the flagship proposal only makes sense if all four universities — University at Buffalo, BU, University at Albany and Stony Brook University — are designated flagships.

Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, said BU will continue to strengthen its programs, regardless of the proposal.

“[BU] is proud of its reputation and its accomplishments,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “We also recognize the significant contributions of all of the SUNY Centers. While we understand the desire to name a flagship, we will continue to provide a quality higher education experience and maintain our premier reputation regardless of what transpires with this discussion. We look forward to working with the Governor and all of the SUNY campuses to strengthen the entire SUNY system and maintain its reputation as one of the country’s largest and finest higher education systems.”

Valerie Imbruce, director of BU’s External Scholarships and Undergraduate Research Center, described the accomplishments of BU’s research programs, cited by Lupardo and Akshar.

“A strength of [BU] is how we unite our research enterprise with educational opportunities, which is an approach that aligns well with Gov. Hochul’s overall vision for SUNY and should be part of any strategy moving forward,” Imbruce wrote in an email. “[BU] graduates go on to excellent post-baccalaureate opportunities in graduate school and in the workforce and win competitive research awards through highly regarded sponsors such as Fulbright, [the Goldwater Foundation] and the National Science Foundation.”

Maya Cowan, a doctoral candidate in the anthropology department, wrote that the proposal should include the recognition of all schools.

“If we are introducing that designation into the SUNY system to only [University at Buffalo] and Stony Brook [University], it stands to reason that potential students could be making assumptions about us based on an arbitrary classification system,” Cowan wrote. “Lupardo and Ashkar’s proposal makes a lot of sense. I don’t see why SUNY can’t formally recognize its top research institutions without leaving out two outstanding schools.”

Brendan Szendrõ, a doctoral candidate in the political science department, wrote that Hochul’s decision may affect the perception of certain communities in government.

“Gov. Hochul has clearly tried to make her mark and differentiate herself from her predecessor, for better or for worse,” Szendrõ wrote in an email. “In theory, designating Stony Brook [University] and [University at Buffalo] as flagships is a way of recognizing both downstate and upstate as integral parts of state politics — after all, they’re at opposite ends of the state. This is something that her predecessor faced a lot of criticism for — neglecting upstate New York. The problem is that it feeds into a broader trend of neglect for most of the smaller upstate communities, like [BU].”