Presidential candidate: Uday SukhatmeTweet
Presidential candidate Uday Sukhatme provided a glimpse of his teaching background during the first five minutes of his Dec. 10 open forum when he asked the audience members if they had read his online biography.
“Has everyone had the chance? Can I see a show of hands?” he asked to the laughter and raised hands of the faculty, staff, administrators and students gathered in the University Union. “I am a professor at heart.”
Sukhatme, now executive vice chancellor, dean of the faculties and professor of physics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was the fourth candidate to the address the campus community.
Sukhatme began his 40-minute PowerPoint presentation by providing an overview of his background, along with his accomplishments at IUPUI, where he has worked since 2006, and as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“If you are in the stock market, you will be told that past performance is no guarantee of future results,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that in the world of higher-education administration, past accomplishments are a very good indicator of things to come.”
He then offered several challenges and opportunities that face public research universities, starting with the decreased percentage of a university budget that comes from the state.
Sukhatme stressed enhanced fundraising, developing new revenue streams and attracting out-of-state students who pay more for tuition.
“All of these are positive ways of saying ‘I can make up for what the state is going to reduce,’” he said. “One can sit back and feel sorry for one’s self and cut this and that - or find new revenue streams and say ‘We can do the things we want to do.”
He added that the president must be a “continuous and persistent spokesman” in both the community and legislature.
“If you are going to do good things, you have to tell the public about them,” he said. “You have to communicate with your legislators. They’re not going to give you money because you say ‘Give me money.’ Show you are doing good things for them.”
Other challenges and opportunities outlined by Sukhatme were:
• The cost of higher education is perceived to be high and its value is not fully appreciated
The president, faculty and others must work to change the campus culture and place greater emphasis on intellectual achievement and less on money earned, Sukhatme said.
“Spread the message that there are ways to gaining happiness instead of money,” he said. “Intellectual achievement is something we should prescribe to.”
• Low graduation rates
Universities should take active roles in the K-20 educational pipeline and highlight the benefits that result from higher education and timely graduation, Sukhatme said.
“Every time a new class comes in (at IUPUI), I welcome them and tell them, ‘We love to see you, but we’ll be happier when you graduate in four years. I’ll come to your commencement,’” he said. “That’s the message we’ve got to get across.”
• Public universities lack freedom to make tuition increases
Sukhatme offered support for SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. The proposal would allow additional flexibility in setting tuition and retaining revenue generated by the tuition.
Steady, planned tuition increases are better than SUNY’s “rather erratic” hikes, he said.
“I think what the chancellor is doing is a good thing and we need to support more rational increases fed in over time,” he added.
• A changing student body
Sukhatme emphasized the use of communication channels that result from modern technology.
“If we know that students are spending 20 hours per week on video games, is there a way to inject some academics into the games?” he said. “That’s how we can think a little outside the box.”
Other challenges mentioned were hiring and retaining faculty; getting federal research funding for new faculty; globalization; communicating the value of research to the public; and providing students with a skill set for jobs.
“I think this is an appropriate time to rethink and analyze higher education,” Sukhatme said. “It’s a time to think outside the box. We have to give hope to people and provide clarity of vision.”
For Sukhatme, the opportunity to lead Binghamton University is “a thrilling prospect.”
“If you were to honor me by offering me this position, I would be an advocate for what we would like to become based on the challenges and opportunities,” he said. “I would like to work with all of you so that together we can make a great university something even more outstanding.”
To read about Gary Miller’s open forum, click here.
To read about Susan Jeffords’ open forum, click here.
To read about Jonathan Alger’s open forum, click here.
To read about Bruce Bursten’s open foum, click here.