August 15, 2011
By: by Times Union
It's been some time since the news from the University at Albany has been so enticing. Plans for more faculty, more students and a new biomedical facility come in such sharp and pleasant contrast to last year's grim news of cuts in humanities and language programs.
The university has a new vision, made possible by NYSUNY 2020, an academic and economic initiative pushed by Governor Cuomo. The idea is for UAlbany and the three other university centers to further develop their own distinctive identities, to the benefit of the regions they serve.
For UAlbany, that means a potential economic impact of nearly $2 billion, primarily through further investment in technology and scientific research. Much of that would come from the $150 million biomedical sciences center. The university projects that 400 new faculty members, researchers and staff would work there.
That's a natural expansion for a university that's distinguished itself with the creation of its College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Other faculty members would be hired, too, primarily in such fields as emerging technology, and environmental and economic sustainability.
So much hope, promise -- and, inevitably, some rather daunting questions.
They center, not surprisingly, on money. Answering them, however, will help generate the public excitement a plan like this deserves.
What UAlbany President George Philip calls the most significant expansion of SUNY since the 1960s is going to require a public investment and private fundraising worthy of that claim.
Take, for example, the biomedical sciences center. Some $42 million has been appropriated already. Now UAlbany is ready to compete for a $35 million grant from the Cuomo administration.
That still will require raising the remaining $73 million. A more prestigious private university might find that not to be so difficult, even in such a dreadful economy. The stakes are higher for UAlbany, though. Where might the money come from? Who will the donors be?
The university intends to reach out, as it has in the past, to private enterprise to develop the partnerships that are becoming more common in higher education. It will look as well to the foundations and philanthropies that help to finance biomedical sciences.
Questions can be asked, too, about plans for hiring 187 more faculty members. It's exciting to think that the faculty to student ratio could be reduced from 30 to 1 to 24 to 1. The university says that will require some $54.8 million in tuition -- which will increase sharply, to more than $6,500 in five years -- and other revenue from the additional 1,350 students it hopes to admit over the next five years.
Is that indeed feasible?
The questions take on more urgency in the light of recent events at UAlbany. Just a month ago, plans to build a new football stadium made the news. Yet the university has still to offer an estimate of what such a project might cost, or why it should be a priority when money is so hard to come by.
Let's hear more from UAlbany about its hopes to expand under NYSUNY 2020 as it awaits the governor's approval to do so. The public that will benefit from a more ambitious university ought to know more about how that will come about. Show us the way, UAlbany.
The university prepares for a huge expansion.
Let's hope such plans are as financially feasible as they are ambitious.