In one of his first talks since being named chancellor of the State University of New York, Robert L. King on Friday assured a gathering of faculty representatives that he would advocate for the schools and seek agreement on his objectives for the sprawling system.
"If you on the front lines are not persuaded by what some guy three layers up in the organization says, you are not going to do it," King said, at a meeting of the State University Faculty Senate in the University Inn in Amherst. "We need common goals and objectives."
The faculty senate is a statewide group of representative faculty from SUNY's 64 campuses.
Gov. George E. Pataki chose King, his budget director and a former county executive of Monroe County, last month to head the nation's largest university system, which includes the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College.
The selection comes at a time when the State University did well in the governor's proposed budget, according to King. The system still faces a large deficit, much of it the result of financial pressure from reimbursement cuts at teaching hospitals affiliated with State University campuses.
King is the first chancellor of the system to come from outside academic circles, a sore point with some critics who wanted a candidate more knowledgeable about higher education.
Without referring to his background directly, King in his talk acknowledged there is much he does not know about SUNY but will work hard to learn. He promised to visit all the campuses this year and to meet administrators, faculty and students.
King said that, like him, most New Yorkers have a parochial view of SUNY. They know about the campuses in their community but know little about the system overall and its assets.
He vowed to change that perception.
"People don't understand the diversity of activity in SUNY. Part of my responsibility is to tell that story because it is compelling," King said.
He used as an example a Farmingdale State Technical College biology professor, I. Edward Alcamo, who recently won the Carski Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching in Microbiology by the American Society for Microbiology.
King said SUNY needs to tell such success stories routinely and suggested he would push for an advertising campaign to promote the campuses.
He also said he plans to have a short video made about SUNY that he will show at weekly sessions in his Albany office for small groups of legislators.
"We can't rely on annual press releases to tell our story," he said.
On budgetary issues, King said the State University must find new sources of funds and do a better job of attracting money from alumni and such federal agencies as the National Science Foundation. He called for a stronger SUNY presence in Washington, D.C., to go after research grants.
King also responded to a host of other issues. Among them:
He promised to study faculty concern over the ownership of course material used by students enrolled in "distance learning" programs.
He said he is committed to helping the SUNY health science centers solve the financial problems they've experienced with their affiliated teaching hospitals.
He expressed confidence in a bright future for SUNY because of the growing economic importance of brain power, especially in such fields as computers and biotechnology.
"The public is coming back to the realization that it needs the university more than at any time in the past," he said.