August 5, 2009

EDITORIAL: In Dr. Zimpher, SUNY has a staunch advocate

Dr. Nancy Zimpher has been on the job only a couple of months, but the new State University of New York chancellor is already becoming her institution's best advocate.

Zimpher has been chancellor since June 1. In that time, she's been traveling the state visiting the 64 SUNY campuses. She was in Plattsburgh last week to get acquainted with Clinton Community and Plattsburgh State and to participate in the ground-breaking for the new Hudson Hall.

During an Editorial Board meeting with the Press-Republican, she was asked about her idea to allow SUNY's medical colleges and four university centers more flexibility in setting tuitions. Why not all the colleges?

She said she was in Buffalo at the time and was addressing a question specifically about the centers, but the proposal probably has merit for all of the institutions. Despite having come from the presidency of the University of Cincinnati — it was she who fired successful but controversial basketball coach Bob Huggins for inappropriate behavior — she has an appreciation for the diverse, multi-campus SUNY system. Early on, she is calling for "consortia" in the administration of SUNY colleges. She favors a cooperation she didn't see anywhere in Ohio.

Though very much involved in the learning process necessary to formulate specific plans for the system, she has some very pointed notions of the potential for SUNY and its value to the people of New York state.

Among the benefits SUNY provides for the state's residents, and for which funding should therefore gladly be provided, are:

•  The "brain gain" that comes from a system that turns out so many educated people every year to contribute to the prosperity of the state.

•  The jobs that are produced by having 64 campuses employing so many people.

•  Teacher retentions.

•  Contributions to the arts in all of the SUNY communities. The North Country is blessed with an active and industrious arts presence apart from SUNY, but the colleges certainly broaden the arts experience with their multifarious offerings.

•  An educated populace, which makes communities better managed and more civic minded.

•  An increasingly "green" conscience. SUNY campuses have the capacity to be leaders in this endeavor throughout the state.

•  A positive influence in the economic revival of the state in a variety of ways, including educationally and by continuing a level of spending throughout the state.

As for the relatively recent debate among SUNY trustees and elsewhere over whether SUNY's emphasis should be on accessibility to all or academic exclusivity, Zimpher said the system needn't feature only one or the other but instead offer a quality education accessible to all.

She is an engaging, engaged leader with a sound resume. In Plattsburgh, at least, the new chancellor got off to a terrific start.