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Spitzer: Stony Brook should be "flagship" school

Gov. Eliot Spitzer added his voice to a chorus of higher education advocates by calling for the hiring of 2,000 full-time faculty over five years for the state's public colleges during Wednesday's State of the State address.

Spitzer also proposed designating Stony Brook University and the University at Buffalo as "flagship" institutions and called for funding to support "cutting-edge" research at public and private universities -- both of which he said would propel economic development.

Spitzer also called for bringing together Stony Brook, the private Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Brookhaven National Laboratory, the federal facility Stony Brook co-manages, to form "a peerless cross-disciplinary research engine in areas of cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics and bioinformatics. The economic benefit for Long Island will be tremendous," Spitzer said.

Stony Brook President Shirley Strum Kenny said such an alliance would be unlike any other in the country.

Spitzer's proposals stemmed from recommendations from his Commission on Higher Education, which delivered its report to Spitzer last month.

"It's a great day for New York and a great day for Long Island, too," said SUNY Interim Chancellor John B. Clark, who presides over the 64-campus SUNY system.

He noted that Buffalo and Stony Brook, two of SUNY's four research centers, are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, which has only 62 members. "As AAU members," he said, "these are our two leaders and they are of special importance."

Kenny said she was "thrilled" by Spitzer's comments. "This is the first recognition in many years that SUNY should have flagship campuses, as other state institutions do. ... As important as all the campuses are in serving the needs of the state, national recognition is based on the flagship campuses."

She hoped the designation, if approved by the state Legislature, would mean additional research funding. Clark said SUNY was waiting for Spitzer's budget proposal, expected on Jan. 22.

"If you have appropriate funding for Buffalo and Stony Brook to be great universities, you're going to put this state system on the map," Kenny said.

Spitzer's support for full-time faculty increases was especially welcomed. Fred Floss, president of the United University Professions union, noted 1,600 more full-time faculty are needed to restore student-to-faculty ratios of 15 years ago.

Calvin O. Butts III, president of SUNY Old Westbury, said more full-time faculty enhances the quality of instruction by, among other things, creating more consistency. "If you have adjuncts, you never know if you will get the same adjuncts from year to year."

Spitzer also called for tapping into the state lottery to create a permanent $4 billion higher education endowment fund.

Other proposals included investing in community colleges and simplifying the process by which community college students transfer to four-year State University of New York and City University of New York colleges.

Both ideas were welcomed by Shirley Robinson Pippins, president of Suffolk County Community College, and Sean Fanelli, president of Nassau Community College. Pippins said the transfer process within SUNY is often cumbersome. "You need ... agreements with every single school. It can be problematic, depending on who you're dealing with."

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