June 2016 Issue
June 28, 2016

NYSUT: New SUNY chancellor must be an educator

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United

The next SUNY chancellor must be an inclusive visionary, an educator and a strong advocate for adequate funding of the university.

"We need someone who is able to not only deal with the day-to-day work of SUNY, but is also able to anticipate the future needs of higher education and is able to place SUNY in competition with other top institutions," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees higher education policy for the union. "And I can't stress enough that the chancellor has to be an educator."

The pending departure of SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher offers an opportunity for NYSUT and United University Professions to work together with SUNY on several areas of concern.

Although Zimpher consistently spoke out about the need to have strong teacher education programs in SUNY, and she drew a connection between a talented teaching force and student success at the K-12 level, she never responded to the concerns that NYSUT and UUP expressed about the new teacher certification exams.

Nor did she concur with the unions that the highly problematic new exams were linked to one of the biggest problems to confront SUNY during her seven years so far as chancellor: the rapid decline of SUNY's teacher education programs, where enrollments plummeted by 30 to 60 percent at many campuses.

In New York, enrollments in teacher education programs at public and private colleges and universities have declined by 45 percent since 2009. Education advocates attribute the decline to a combination of an increasingly hostile attitude toward the profession and a deeply flawed teacher certification process that the state introduced three years ago — and which students and teacher education faculty have widely criticized.

Zimpher remained silent as NYSUT, UUP and the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY waged a strong public campaign to amend the certification process. Then, a month ago, she announced the TeachNY initiative with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to reform teacher education in New York.

NYSUT and its largest higher education affiliate, UUP — which represents the faculty and staff at the state-operated SUNY campuses — immediately rejected the plan for its failure to consult practitioners or the state Board of Regents.

"There was very little communication," said UUP President Fred Kowal, describing years of effort with Zimpher that yielded little progress on key issues facing SUNY.

UUP made it a priority the last two years to get out its legislative agenda before the State of SUNY address, Kowal said.

"That was always intended to be an opening for discussions. We never got those direct discussions with the chancellor. At no point has SUNY publicly joined with us in an aggressive defense of the SUNY hospitals, and an expansion of patient care, research and education."

Kowal echoed Fortino's commitment to working with the next chancellor.

"We want to be partners with SUNY, to make the university better," he said.