Finding a solution as a whole

Development of a SUNY Strategic Plan pushed forward Tuesday with the third of seven statewide conversations focusing on how best to position the institution for the next 5-15 years.

The talks, held at campuses around the state, have featured over 200 faculty, alumni, administrative and student leaders from across the 64-campus system, gauging their ideas on economic viability, sustainability, location, diversity, arts and culture, health care and the educational pipeline.

"The real goal is to become the leading higher education public institution in this country," said Anthony Knerr, founder of educational planning company Anthony Knerr & Associates. Knerr has led educational planning at dozens of institutions, including Cambridge, Columbia and Oxford Universities.

SUNY, which has a current enrollment of nearly a half million students, is looking to assert itself in New York and the nation as an educational and economic powerhouse.

The strategic plan is the brainchild of SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. Sworn in as chancellor this past June, Zimpher has embarked on one of the most ambitious restructurings of the SUNY system in its history.

It’s a process that the candid Zimpher has called a BHAG, or "big hairy audacious goal" for its level of involvement and also its importance to SUNY. Zimpher’s level of transparency in the process has been to its benefit.

"[People] have been much more willing to be creative and think outside of the box, and she has offered some really unexplored areas to look into," Oswego State President Deborah Stanley said. "They know that their ideas will at least be considered; that’s very important."

Stanley is one of the 19 members of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee working directly with Zimpher in distilling the input of the conversations.

"It’s about what we are as an asset of New York State," Stanley said. "It’s about how we establish an understanding, looking at what can we do and how can we do it better so that we can be valued in a way that is appropriate."

Tuesday’s talk at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan revolved around arts and culture and it’s pivotal role in the educational process, both in establishing connections to the community and in promoting an engaging educational experience.

"What we need to do is think more broadly in terms of arts and culture here in SUNY," said Carl Hayden, chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

With economic woes becoming commonplace for SUNY, many expressed the fear that the funding for arts would be lost in New York State’s budget slashing.

"In this period of economic uncertainty, it’s a moment to rethink [arts and culture] and create something new," said keynote speaker Thelma Golden, executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

The critical thinking and creative skills developed in art programs can be applied across the board to invigorate math and science studies, Golden said.

The statewide conversations are just phase two in a larger four part planning process. Phase one included Zimpher’s 64-campus tour completed this past summer. Phase three will kick off with unveiling the master plan in the spring of 2010 and phase four will encompass the evaluation and reassessment of the plan through 2020.