Binghamton University officials, including President Harvey Stenger, recently presented their NYSUNY 2020 plan in Albany, as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s program that infuses state schools with millions of dollars in grant money — and allows them to raise tuition.
The University’s agenda is ambitious. Not only does it plan to increase the size of both the faculty and student bodies by 150 and 2,000, respectively, but it also includes plans to build a $70 million alternative energy facility at the Innovative Technologies Complex.
There are certainly aspects of the University’s agenda that we commend. Looking for alternative sources of energy is always a good thing, especially on the research frontier. The more barriers we can bend and break, the bigger our blip gets on the national radar. But though Binghamton’s variation of the SUNY 2020 program is certainly deserving of praise for its goals of increasing research and revenue, the apparent disinterest it shows in the student population is worrisome.
The University and Cuomo are also hoping that the construction of the facility boosts Binghamton’s local economy. And of course, this is a good thing — we see nothing wrong with increased cash flow into the city. Maybe the new money will be used to help continue transform Downtown into a less depressing place. (It’s a permanent investment, unlike something like hydrofracking natural gas extraction.) And the grants provided through the program are a good example of using cash incentives to reward academic success.
Binghamton University is, these days, well on the way to becoming a research-first institution. But that has never been, isn’t now, nor should it be this school’s sole purpose. Its primary agenda should be providing low-cost, high-quality professional and liberal arts education to students.
This is a priority that we’re worried that University and State officials seem to have forgotten. When Sen. Charles Schumer was here last week for a lab opening, he derided past research efforts.
“Too often, New York institutions did research that was very nice in the ivory tower, but didn’t create any jobs. We are now focused on things that create jobs,” he announced proudly.
This attitude is alarming. And so is the fact that students have to make up for Albany’s inability to fully commit to secondary education.
If what they say about “rational tuition” is true, then it is better than the recent trend in tuition increases, where the price of our education was jacked up according to the short-sighted whim of Albany lawmakers, and often didn’t even go into the University’s coffers. Systematic tuition is good — at least as advertised — insofar as students are in the know about where their tuition dollars are going, and why they are going anywhere at all.
But the fact that the state is letting tax rates on millionaires drop to their previous low levels as tuition rates continue to rise for SUNY students is a sad display of whom our representatives in Albany truly represent. New York
The state is providing only $35 million of the $70 million needed to construct the new ITC building, and the rest is being supplied by the University and additional revenue from local businesses and corporations. Raising tuition puts the burden on the students, and though the new cash is needed to preserve and expand education here, no one’s talking about that — it’s all about jobs for people who don’t go here.
Empirically, this new money is a good thing. Developing new, cutting-edge research facilities is a good thing. Boosting the local economy is a good thing. But other than slightly reducing the overall student-faculty ratio — largely by hiring researchers — it’s hard to sugar coat this as something tangibly beneficial for more than a few current students. We hope the University doesn’t forget what it should be here for.