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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

In response to the county’s fly-by-night decision to remove 176 old oak trees along Seaman’s Neck Road, earlier this month, New York State Sen. Kemp Hannon has issued a letter to Nassau County Department of Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias regarding constituents’ concerns with the appearance of the roadway.

In his letter, Hannon asks Commissioner Shah-Gavnoudias if the removal of the trees were under the jurisdiction of LIPA or PSEG.

“If not, I would like to know who made the decision to remove these trees and why,” Hannon states. “I request you review this case and take whatever course of action necessary.”

U.S. Navy Veteran Richard Meyerowitz of Levittown joined the military in 1962, enlisting straight out of high school. While he would never see combat, Meyerowitz served as a boilerman aboard the U.S.S. Dewey amid the United States’ blockade of Cuba.

“They gave us our orders,” Meyerowitz said, “turn any vessels away. If not, blow ‘em out of the water.”

During the blockade, Meyerowitz said he only encountered one ship, which they warned to turn back. Just a kid at the time, Meyerowitz said it didn’t occur to him at the time, how the country could have been on the verge of nuclear war.


Sports

Christopher Joseph of Levittown was recently selected to play on the United States world university hockey team in Italy this year. A 2009 MacArthur High School graduate, Joseph was captain of his high school team for two seasons, leading them to two championships. Joseph would later go on to play junior hockey for New York Apple Core and the New Jersey Rockets junior ‘A’ team.

Joseph’s parents, Hal and Theresa, along with his brother Robert and sister Kristin said they are very proud of Christopher’s accomplishments and are cheering him on as he heads off to Italy.

Farmingdale State College had four players named to the 2014 D3baseball.com All-New York Team. Senior outfielder Edward Bergmann of East Meadow, earned First Team honors, while junior shortstop Anthony Alvino of Lindenhurst was named to the Second Team. Junior outfielder Michael Marino of Franklin Square and sophomore pitcher Alex Weingarten of East Rockaway also earned Third Team honors this year.

Bergmann batted a team-leading .421 this season and also led the Rams in hits (53), runs scored (42), doubles (8), on-base percentage (.503), stolen bases (30) and held a perfect fielding percentage. Nationally, Bergmann ranks 4th for stolen bases per game (0.88), 10th in stolen bases, 23rd in both on-base percentage and batting average and 29th in runs scored per game (1.21).


Calendar

BOE Planning Session

Wednesday, Aug. 27

Bad Seed Auditions

Thursday, Aug. 28

Close Encounters with Benevolent ETs

Friday, Aug. 29



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
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Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com