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Pols slam Paterson for CUNY board veto

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State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) lambasted Gov. David Paterson this week for vetoing legislation they sponsored that they said would result in more objective State University of New York and City University of New York boards of trustees.

The legislation, passed by the Senate and Assembly, would have mandated that any SUNY or CUNY trustee could not work directly for the mayor or governor, which is currently allowed.

“When our bill passed both houses of the Legislature, I believed it heralded an end to trustees who felt they owed their jobs to the politician appointing them, and a beginning of an era in which they saw they were to be accountable to the students of New York and their educational goals,” Stavisky said. “Instead, the governor has chosen to exercise his authority to maintain a system wherein his appointees could be influenced to carry out his policies and not necessarily those that benefit our public university systems.”

The governor appoints 15 of SUNY’s 17 trustees, who are joined by one student and one non-voting faculty member. CUNY’s 16 board members are appointed by the governor and mayor, and the board also has one student and one non-voting faculty member. The boards have decision-making power over many aspects of the school systems. The SUNY board, for example, can appoint and approve university leadership, including the chancellor and campus presidents. They regulate school tuition and fees and grant the thousands of degrees, diplomas and honorary degrees that SUNY issues annually.

Paterson said he vetoed Stavisky’s and Lancman’s legislation because state lawmakers already have a say in who is appointed. Lawmakers must give their stamp of approval to Paterson’s appointees.

“Further, should the people of New York find that the appointees of the governor are not well-suited or find that those who are nominated to a board do not serve the interests of the institution, there is a political and electoral process by which those grievances can be aired,” Paterson wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunat­ely, the Legislature has chosen to place broad and unnecessary limitations on executive authority to appoint appropriate members to public university boards rather than use its existing constitutional powers of advice and consent. I simply cannot agree to straightjacket future executives in this manner, in regard to such important public bodies.”

But Lancman had a different take on the existing process.

“Too often governors and mayors have appointed their senior staff to the boards of SUNY and CUNY as a means of controlling a bloc of votes on those boards, preferring toadies to trustees of higher education in the truest sense of the word,” Lancman said. “It’s a pity that the governor’s veto will extend this distorted practice.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:31 pm, October 10, 2011
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