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SUNY toots own horn during "showcase"

SUNY put its best foot forward Tuesday in an effort to show how tax dollars are spent at its 64 campuses.
Daniel Robison
SUNY put its best foot forward Tuesday in an effort to show how tax dollars are spent at its 64 campuses.

SUNY has stepped up its self-promotional efforts.

In an attempt to paint the university system in a better light - and perhaps to justify its $10.8 billion budget in tight economic times - SUNY staged a regional “showcase” in Buffalo Tuesday. It was one of ten similar events thrown over the past year.

The science fair-like atmosphere - with dozens of booths and cardboard displays - provided a chance for nine western New York SUNY campuses to toot their own horns - be it in scientific research, new degree programs or job creation.

“We asked our campuses across the state to show the public what we’re doing,” SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said Tuesday.

New York State taxpayers bankroll the majority of SUNY’s budget. As such, Zimpher says the system’s 64 campuses should be held accountable.

“We should show them what we’re doing with their investment,” said Zimpher.

Over the past five years SUNY has weathered over $1.4 billion in public funding cuts, according to SUNY’s accounting.

The series of regional showcases comes as part of 2010’s Power of SUNYinitiative, itself partly a reaction to those cuts.

The vision

The Power of SUNY strategic plan follows “six big ideas” - each aiming to improve SUNY while positively influencing the public’s perception of how its tax dollars are being spent.

“A lot of people, I’ll say it, put SUNY down because they think, ‘Oh, it’s just a state school,’ not realizing that we have a rich culture and we’re doing an awful lot of interesting things,” said Holly Lawson, a chemistry professor at Fredonia State.

Lawson says events like Tuesday’s showcase help people construct a more nuanced view of what SUNY does.

“Just like an auto show”

On display Tuesday was one of the public’s larger investments in the SUNY system: SUNY-Fredonia’s new $60 million science building, which is currently under construction.

Lawson provided a look at the project’s progression with an interactive virtual tour of the construction site.

Lawson was also encouraged by SUNY organizers to mingle and “cross-pollinate” with peers from other campuses in her field of research.

“So even though I’m here talking about this science center, I’ve wandered around and looked at what the other places are doing,” Lawson said. “I’ve already talked to somebody at [SUNY-Buffalo] about a potential collaboration.”

SUNY organizers also envisioned the event acting as a recruitment tool for high school students.

Pamphlets on how to apply to SUNY were littered throughout the venue, Buffalo State’s Burchfield-Penney Art Center. A string quintet, a generous spread of pastries and campus recruiters also welcomed visitors.

“We sort of brag a little bit about what we’re doing,” said Jack Quinn, president of Erie Community College. “Just like an auto show. [The automobile industry] likes to showcase new and innovative ideas every year. That’s a comparison for this event.”