June 2011 Issue
May 26, 2011

Unions weigh goals for master plan

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: A SUNY New Paltz student joins union activists in the call for greater state investment in higher education, including more services and faculty during one of the many rallies at the capitol. Photo by Andrew Watson.

As New York's public colleges and universities start to develop state-mandated master plans for the next eight years, NYSUT's higher education leaders are identifying priorities that will give them a strong voice in this effort.

"This is a time when we're going to continue to be proactive, and to look forward as we go into this process," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira recently told members of the union's Higher Education Council, as those leaders discussed the forthcoming master plans for SUNY, CUNY, the community colleges and the independent colleges and universities.

"We as an organization have always set the tone of the discussion on major policy issues; we do not simply wait to react," Neira added. "Our higher education members are exceptionally qualified to enter the discussion on long-term goals and priorities for the colleges and universities at which they work, and we at NYSUT stand ready to help them do that."

State Education law requires all 270 of the state's public and private colleges and universities to file master plans that define their objectives every eight years. The law requires that both the SUNY and CUNY plans address:

• How the systems will develop new curricula and construction projects.
• Projected changes in student admission policies and enrollments.
• Projected expenditures for capital and operating costs.
• The SUNY and CUNY systems' relationships with other colleges and universities in the state.

Colleges and universities do not have to submit individual master plans to SED until June 2012. NYSUT's higher education leaders plan to use the next year to help NYSUT identify and define its priorities for master plans for SUNY, CUNY, the community colleges and the independent colleges and universities.

In the past six months, NYSUT's higher education members have turned out by the thousands to advocate for the restoration of funds and faculty at their campuses.

Now, NYSUT's higher education leaders say they look forward to this critical opportunity to return that effort on behalf of members, by helping to shape the state's goals for New York's colleges and universities in the next decade.

"This is an opportunity for a broad-based coalition of higher ed people to act," said Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY. "I think we should present a strong plan that will allow us all to move forward."

The Higher Education Council will help develop NYSUT's response to the master plan. When the previous master plan was under develoment, NYSUT leaders testified before the boards of Regents and trustees at SUNY and CUNY; addressed their concerns in letters to statewide policymakers, and met with administrators at SUNY, CUNY and SED.

Based on a preliminary review of SED's priorities this time around, NYSUT higher education leaders would like greater emphasis on the affordability of higher education; on access to college; and on professional development for faculty and staff.

Suffolk Community College Faculty Association president Ellen Schuler Mauk, chair of the Higher Education Council, noted that the drive to set specific goals for a state's entire higher education system is linked to a national trend toward assessment in education. That trend is now reaching into higher education, after having become firmly established in K-12 systems.

"Our job here is to see how we would weigh in on this," said Schuler Mauk, who, along with Erie Community College local president Andy Sako, speaks to community college issues on the NYSUT board. "We also need to take a look at these goals and see not only what the state is saying in this eight-year plan, but what would we like it to say."

The need to act is already at hand. At CUNY, the board of trustees has begun to develop the master plan, noted Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents nearly 25,000 faculty and staff at CUNY.

"We are determined that the voices of the faculty, staff and students be heard as CUNY develops its plan. On other occasions, in the past, the Board has acted without regard for those voices, and this issue is too important to decide without us," Bowen said.