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Letter: Let The Sun Shine In On SUNY Foundations

You would expect an organization created for public benefit that is largely led by government officials would be obligated to report to the public about its activities. Yet the Research Foundation of the State University of New York (SUNY) and its many campus foundations are not required to do so and apparently feel no such compulsion to share information with the public. Instead, these organizations often cloak their activities in secrecy.

As president of United University Professions – the union representing academic and professional faculty at SUNY’s state-operated campuses – I think it’s time to let the sun shine in. It’s time to require the SUNY Research Foundation and campus foundations to be held accountable and to be more transparent.

For years, these foundations have behaved much like shadow government agencies. They typically refuse to provide detailed answers about what they are doing regarding hiring and pay practices. For example, the Research Foundation handles nearly $1 billion in research grants annually from both government and private sources. The campus foundations have become vehicles for the distribution of millions of dollars in funds that should be directly targeted to improving the university’s academic mission.  

The SUNY Research Foundation says its mission is to “…support research and discovery at SUNY…and sharing of intellectual property for public benefit and economic growth.” But how do we know the foundation is properly fulfilling that noble-sounding mission? That’s a legitimate question, in the wake of critical news reports, investigations and remarks by some public officials questioning the spending practices and clandestine activities of the foundations.

Then there was last year’s 90-page study commissioned by SUNY and conducted by a consultant for a Washington D.C. law firm about the relationship between SUNY and the Research Foundation last year. The study determined the foundation did not act solely as a service organization devoted to SUNY’s priorities. “Rather, it aspires to and increasingly does chart its own independent course, regardless of SUNY’s views,” the study found.

I believe the time has come for the legislature to intervene. A bill that would require greater accountability and transparency for the SUNY Research Foundation has been introduced in both houses of the legislature (S.5797/A.7789-E). The legislation would expand the definition of a state agency to include entities such as the Research Foundation and SUNY’s campus foundations that are affiliated with SUNY or its institutions. That designation would make them subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

Passage of this legislation would ensure that the Research Foundation – which administers more than $1 billion in research each year – is more open and transparent, thereby serving the best interests of the public as its mission defines.

SUNY has indicated that it, too, supports such a bill in principle.

I encourage state lawmakers to approve this vital piece of legislation.

Phillip H. Smith

(The writer is president of United University Professions, the union that represents 35,000 faculty and professional staff at SUNY’s state-operated campuses.)

News

A group of like-minded local residents banded together and saved more than 200 area trees from the chopping block — for now.

A state judge ordered Nassau County and the Department of Public Works to stop cutting down trees along South Oyster Bay Road, granting a temporary restraining order to a group of residents spearheading an effort to save the trees.

State Supreme Court Judge Antonio Brandveen scheduled a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 16 for the county to address complaints from residents, in particular a group called Operation STOMP (Save Trees Over More Pavement) founded by Hicksville native Tanya Lukasik.The Public Works department had planned to removed more than 200 30-foot trees in communities ranging from Plainview, Bethpage, Hicksville and Syosset.

For the past 16 years, Lucia Simon has walked from her home in Hicksville to her job at the Hicksville Public Library. She enjoys her job as a librarian and says that the staff has become like family to her. But for the past three years, Simon and 56 fellow co-workers have been frustrated at what she says is the library’s board refusal to negotiate a fair contract.  

“We have had no contract in three years. They refuse to bargain with us. Every time they come back to us it’s not fair,” says Simon.

However, the board of trustees disagree, saying that it has made a “fair offer.”


Sports

The Girls Varsity soccer team, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, wore pink uniforms and pink socks in their game on Oct. 8 against MacArthur whom they defeated 1-0. The girls and boys soccer programs at Hicksville High School are selling pink ribbon car magnets with a soccer ball and HHS on it with the words “Kick Cancer” on the ribbon. All the money raised will go to the Sarah Grace Foundation, which is a local foundation trying to beat pediatric cancer. The players plan to raise $1,000 for this organization

— From Hicksville High School

Hicksville native progressing through Mets system

The Mets minor league system is enjoying a rare period of prosperity. For years, it was barren due to trading off high-ceiling players for major leaguers, or neglecting the draft in favor of the free agent market. Since General Manager Sandy Alderson took over, the organization has reversed course and put a much greater emphasis on player development. During his second-to-last season, however, former GM Omar Minaya took a chance and drafted a local catcher, Cam Maron, out of Hicksville High School in the 34th round.


Calendar

Spooktacular Halloween

October 17

Fall Festival

October 18

Veterans Casework Seminar

October 21



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