SUNY Grilled on Higher Tuition

ALBANY—State University officials didn't get the warmest reception this morning at a legislative budget hearing.

During the hearing, State Senator Carl Kruger vowed to "find every dollar available" before releasing blanket funds to public universities, which hiked tuition late last year, but which under David Paterson's proposal will see only 10 percent of the additional money raised.

"There are some new sheriffs in town," Kruger, now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said. "I as the chairperson am going to be very, very aggressive in finding every available dollar that's available in every nook and cranny, in every special account, in every parking account, in every cafeteria account, in every research foundation account."

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who now chairs the Higher Education Committee, pressed State University of New York Vice Chancellor John O'Connor for details about the S.U.N.Y. Research Foundation, which the Times Union has written about extensively. The quasi-governmental organization – O'Connor claims that unlike state agencies, it is not subject to freedom of information laws – maintains fat coffers at a time when campuses are starved.

"Your assets are in the hundreds of millions, and I understand that you have done very well, incidentally in the stock market," Stavisky said. "Is there any way that perhaps the state university can tap into these resources to offset some of these devastating budget cuts?"

O'Connor replied that the funds are distributed at various campuses, and are being tapped by some college and university presidents already. Stavisky then asked him to explain $20 million in travel expenses incurred last year by Research Foundation employees, which O'Connor said "those are the folks who receive federal grants, and under the federal grants their travel is funded for whatever they may be doing under those grants."

After testifying, Carl Hayden, the chairman of S.U.N.Y.'s board of trustees, said tuition money should be "held in trust for the purpose of underwriting a quality education."

He said officials were speaking to several legislative allies. Then he rushed off to another meeting.

SUNY Grilled on Higher Tuition