Advocates meet with state legislators during annual Albany visit
By Katie Ellis
About 60 faculty, staff, students and administrators made the annual trek to Albany on March 6, where they met with legislators to talk about Binghamton University's successes, as well as its plans for the future. Their message: Binghamton University is all about excellence, access, economic impact and innovation – and has plans to grow.
After taping a segment with Sen. Thomas Libous for the Tom Libous Reports to You program (view online), President Harvey Stenger and his team met separately with Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo; Sen. Kenneth Lavalle, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee; Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari; Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos; and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee.
Stenger was accompanied by Bahgat Sammakia, interim vice president for research; James Dix, associate professor of chemistry and Binghamton UUP chapter president; Martin Honeychuck, carpenter and Binghamton CSEA chapter vice president; and Terry Kane, director of state and community relations.
The team's meeting with Lavalle centered on economic development and what Binghamton's next step should be to add vigor to the Southern Tier economy. "Do you have an R & D park?" Lavalle asked. "No," Stenger said, "but actually linking a high-technology incubator makes sense in downtown Binghamton."
"That's the piece that's really missing in our region," Sammakia said, "and that's what we're going for."
The University expects to have a proposal for just such an incubator included in the next Regional Economic Development Council plan, due in May. "We're asking for $7 million from the REDC," Stenger said. "We'll need $15 million for it and we're working on getting federal Economic Development Administration funding for it as well."
"Do that and it would be a good thing. There's a PR component that the University is focused on it, and it creates a rhythm and ethos that people will buy into," Lavalle said.
Noting that SUNY is "on a good track" right now, Lavalle said he's also optimistic that the budget will be done early this year. "There's a good shot at that."
In all of his meetings, Stenger told legislators that passage of Binghamton's NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant proposal, which would support enrollment growth of 2,000 students, is critical for the University. "What's unique about it is that because we have such a strong applicant pool, we know we can grow without sacrificing quality," Stenger said. Along with the new students, the University will hire 150 faculty and 175 staff over the next five years and supplement student financial aid to "keep the focus on the students with need to provide access."
The University's NYSUNY 2020 proposal also includes plans for a smart-energy facility to focus on sustainable energy systems. "Our challenge grant will also expand our research in one of our areas of strength – smart energy. We're good at it, but we're physically constrained so we need to construct one more building to expand our research activities in those thrust areas."
Stenger hopes the University will present its NYSUNY 2020 proposal within the next several weeks.
Glick said she was glad to hear that Binghamton is moving forward, and made a plea for educators to remember the humanities and non-STEM disciplines as well. "There's a continuum around education and one of the issues raised by others is the changing nature of education going forward," she said. As we move toward distance education and other means of teaching, "bricks and mortar and centers of culture and knowledge are important to me. We're going to live a long time and an enriched life is more than a very narrow slice of education. We need to recognize the 'wholeness' of the human endeavor."
Sammakia said the University has 24 research centers, and more than half of them are in the liberal arts arena. "We spend more than half of our budget on them, and we care about them," he said.
Appreciative of the visit, Canestrari said, "Let's see if we can be helpful. It's good you're coming around and making friends."
"You do a great job," Skelos said. "It's a sought-after University and your students get a great education. Anything we can do to be helpful, let us know."