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SUNY MUST CONSOLIDATE SO IT CAN THRIVE

In the 16 years I have served as chairman of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, I have traveled to State University of New York campuses from one end of the state to the other. I have been reminded over and over again of the depth and breadth that each SUNY campus offers.

But given budget realities, it is vital to remember that an individual SUNY campus can no longer be all things to all people.

Through the years, many have criticized SUNY for having no "flagship" campus, such as those developed by some other states. But it was by design that SUNY grew as it did. We must refocus SUNY's mission and build centers and programs of excellence that cross campus boundaries.

Gov. Pataki's budget follows through on his pledge to reduce spending, taxes, regulation and the size of government. The impact of that budget on higher education cannot be denied.

However, I am heartened by the announcement that the Senate Finance Committee is projecting $214 million in additional revenue for the 1995-96 fiscal year. I believe that a portion of that additional revenue should go to help SUNY develop a multiyear plan.

We need to look at each individual campus, to see how to integrate it into the network, to strengthen the role of a campus when it makes sense and to redefine the mission where it is appropriate.

For example, a cursory look at a listing of SUNY degree-program offerings shows that a student can pursue a bachelor's degree in environmental studies at 10 different SUNY campuses or a bachelor's degree in geology at 14 different campuses.

I have to wonder whether some of these degree programs could be consolidated into fewer but stronger departments.

One innovation that is being used in some areas of the state, but largely ignored in other areas, allows students to cross-register at other nearby campuses. Degree-program planning on a regional basis, taking advantage of strengths that already exist, seems to make sense.

The next step is crucial. The SUNY Board of Trustees, its chancellor and its system administration need to develop a plan that lays out their collective vision for how we should proceed.

We who will be making some very tough budget decisions in the coming weeks need to hear from the trustees and the chancellor. We need more than threats of huge tuition increases and campus closings.

We need them to share their vision of the role each component of the state university system will play as we try to follow through on our shared commitment to preserving the excellent programs and resources we have built through the years.

KENNETH P. LAVALLE
New York State Senator
Port Jefferson

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