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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

Due to what appears to be a colossal error on the part of the Nassau County Assessor’s office, or perhaps an errant interpretation of state law, nearly 2,000 military veterans and Gold Star families in Levittown and Island Trees will have to wait for their tax break until next year. 

 

Both the Levittown and Island Trees school districts are among several local school districts that recently approved resolutions extending the exemption to local veterans, even though budgets and Albany’s tax cap make it a tough choice. Earlier this year, trustees in both districts voted unanimously to provide a school tax exemption for veterans living in the district, starting with the 2014-15 school year. 

In response to the criticism from the community over the proposed sale of 11.3 acres of school district property housing the Stephen E. Karopczyc and Geneva N. Gallow school facilities, the Island Trees  Board of Education has revealed the details of an $18 million proposal to develop housing for seniors (age 55 and up).

 

“People should be aware of the whole story,” said Island Trees Schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy. “There is this perception that [the board] acted hastily... It was not just a quick decision over chump change.”


Sports

Kaitlyn Gerdes and Kelly Gerdes, seniors at MacArthur High School in the Levittown School District, have signed National Letters of Intent to continue playing soccer on the college level at Hofstra University this fall. They will each pursue a degree in exercise science.

 

Both girls are co-captains of the varsity soccer team and received All-County designations this fall. As sophomores, the twins assisted their team in winning the county, Long Island and New York State championship titles. As a junior, Kaitlyn was designated as an All-

Class player, while Kelly garnered an All-Class designation in her junior year and has been named an All-Long Island and All-Conference player. Kaitlyn and Kelly also play for the Farmingdale United travel soccer team and are peer leaders at their school.

 

— Submitted by the Levittown Public School District 

An international soccer conference featuring the legendary Pelé is coming to the local area. Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity and Politics is at Hofstra University in Hempstead through April 13.

 

“Pelé transformed and transcended the game of soccer,” said Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz. “While the world first came to know him for extraordinary athletic feats, his soccer career was, in many respects, simply a prelude to an extraordinary life of service as a philanthropist and advocate. He understands the power and responsibility his soccer legacy carries, and has used it to improve the lives of others.”

 

Members of the Long Island Junior Soccer League are invited to join the conference as a guest and at no charge on Saturday, April 12 at Hofstra University. Panels and discussions on Saturday will include experts in coaching, leagues and sports media and were designed with the soccer enthusiast in mind.


Calendar

Meet the Candidates - April 8

Special Town Meeting - April 9

Blood Drive - April 9


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