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SUNY strategic planning effort proceeds

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, pictured here with SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden, has participated in six “conversations” at SUNY campuses across the state, with students, faculty, business leaders, educators and community members, about the future of the university. Photo by The Legislative Gazette.
March 08, 2010
Methods for improving energy use and the quality of life within the State University of New York system were considered recently as part of an ongoing dialogue at SUNY campuses that will lead to the creation of a new strategic plan.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and 200 SUNY delegates have conducted six "conversations" on specific topics at different campuses.

The fifth statewide conversation was hosted by Stony Brook University with guest speaker Steven E. Koonin, second undersecretary for science in the U.S. Department of Energy, and the sixth conversation was held at SUNY Plattsburgh with guest speaker Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Feb. 4, Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Zimpher and the delegates spent the day listening to suggestions from faculty, students, business and community leaders for improving sustainabile energy efforts within the SUNY system.

On Feb. 16, SUNY Plattsburg President John Ettling hosted the sixth conversation. The theme was "quality of place" and ideas were presented on how to develop stronger ties between SUNY campuses and the communities that surround them.

As one of the larger energy users in the state, the fifth conversation focused on ways to make SUNY more energy efficient.

"Because of our size and the amount of energy we use, we need to take responsibility in making our campuses a global model in energy and sustainability," said Zimpher.

"We are working very hard in Stony Brook to make our campuses more energy efficient. This will save millions of dollars," said Stanley. "We want to work together with other New York universities to take the lead in becoming leaders in energy efficiency."

In his presentation, Koonin offered details on how the federal government expects to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. He spoke about plans to invest and depend more on hybrid cars, natural gas and newer energy technologies.

Koonin stress the importance public policy plays in achieving these energy goals. "If the government sets the playing field, companies will find new ways to continue making money," he said. "The government needs policy coordination among federal and state agencies."

"We need to encourage efficiency and conservation and change people's behaviors," said Koonin. "Make the cost of driving more evident. Make the price of electricity more evident. Make the price of carbon dioxide more evident. In the end everything is about money."

He went on to explain how universities can use their vast resources to research energy efficiency, test new technologies and implement them throughout their campuses.

At the sixth conversation, attention was turned to quality of life issues, and Ettling explained how he used campus resources to make the school a quality place for its students, staff and faculty, as well as efforts to keep students in New York state after they've completed their education.

"We need to take advantage of our locations. We are in the middle of many things," said Ettling. "By making campuses a quality place you will keep more students once they graduate."

Harkavy offered examples of how he and his staff in Pennsylvania involved communities in school projects. "The public is disconnected with colleges. They don't trust colleges," said Harkavy.

He stressed that the only way colleges and the communities around them can come together is by working on trust and by genuinely trying to help one another. He explained that since colonial times the goal of educational institutions has been to support and improve the economy, and there needs to be a constant reminder that this is still true today.

Harkavy said all schools should include the concept of quality of place in their priorities. "Every school should have an office/program that focuses on working with the localities to improve education in the environment. Institutions should share ideas with each other," said Harkavy. "The students can learn by solving their own problems. If you connect the academic and volunteer work everyone will benefit."

"The students should be involved in building homes; they should be involved in ending poverty; they should be involved tutoring their communities," said Harkavy.

"I like the idea of SUNY being the go-to for information," said Zimpher.

The chancellor also took the opportunity in both conversations to speak about Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovative Act, which would give individual SUNY campuses more autonomy when it comes to establishing tuition rates and developing relationship with businesses.

Zimpher said the act would make everything they spoke about at the conversations happen faster and with better efficiency.

"We are working on drafting tuition policy to show the Legislature how it would work," said Zimpher during the fifth conversation.

The information presented during the conversations will be analyzed and refined by a SUNY strategic planning steering committee. It will then be incorporated into a strategy that is expected to serve as a foundation for a plan to guide SUNY for the next five years and help set the course for development over the next 10 years.

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