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UB 2020 takes advantage of the students who need reform the most

On January 22, 2013


When is UB going to realize that UB 2020 is an insult to its students?

The newest chapter to the university's grand expansion plan is "Realizing UB 2020: A Window of Opportunity," an exercise that, according to Provost Charles Zukoski, is "expected to transform UB." The first draft, which was released for campus review on Dec. 19 and will be completed in May, allegedly "articulates UB's mission and vision, provides planning context, focuses on institutional goals and values, and outlines three of several strategies that will form the basis for the university's direction over the next several years." Good, right?

Except the draft contains little beyond cliché definitions of what makes UB and the students who dwell in its halls so great.

So what's the actual plan? We don't know because it doesn't exist. And we don't know when we are going to know. Here's the problem: UB is trying so hard to be this grand, global research university and wait for UB 2020 to transform the city, but it keeps forgetting that, meanwhile, it is supposed to be a comprehensive university that benefits all students and, most importantly, the students who are currently enrolled.

Objectively speaking, UB 2020 is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to expand the school and bring in revenue and job growth - in fact, it's what the school should eventually be doing. But in its ideological sense, the repercussions for UB's students are terrible, and it's clear the university is taking advantage of them and the fact everyone feels they need to have a college degree to move forward.

A short history for the students who still aren't really sure what the program is (we're guessing a large majority):

UB 2020 is the creation of former UB President John B. Simpson, who sought after a plan to expand UB and make it a leader in education not only nationally but also globally. Following his first attempt and subsequent revision, Governor Andrew Cuomo and SUNY passed the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program in June 2011, a plan designed to make SUNY a catalyst for job and education growth throughout the state, particularly the SUNY University Centers in Albany, Binghamton, Stony Brook and, of course, Buffalo.

Idealistically, the program is a good idea and has done a few great things, including leading to the construction of Greiner Hall, Davis Hall and schools on South Campus. It also includes the "Heart of the Campus" plan, which will design classrooms, study spaces, computer labs, library facilities, dining services and dorms to provide a "learning landscape" everywhere on campus.

But UB 2020, which is expected to cost the university about $5 billion total and $375 million for Phase One (construction of the downtown medical school building) alone, requires a tuition hike - $300 extra each year (8 percent) for five years, with one year of hikes already completed - and tax revenue from NYS taxpayers to be added to the mix.

"Realizing UB 2020" is basically Zukoski's call to action from President Satish Tripathi in an attempt to sort out some questions. It is nothing more than a plan of a plan, a list of what UB wants to achieve with the expansion years down the road.

UB 2020 is entirely overzealous. It wants to make UB students distinctive and give their degrees more meaning and turn the school into a world-class institution, but instead of building up what we already have slowly and carefully, the plan is to just take giant steps in an attempt to make up ground. It is impossible for UB to go head-to-head on reputation after a decade of reconstruction when the top-name universities our leaders so desperately want it to be like have had centuries to build their names.

The university is already ranked as a Research University with Very High Research Activity (RU/VH), according to the Carnegie Classification of the Institutions of Higher Education, but it doesn't publicize that. The most important part of the draft (and perhaps the only tangible evidence of any impact) is part of the "academic strategy."

Every program will be required to designate themes as the organizing framework meant to strengthen and better the students. But that's it. Is there a reason the school doesn't work with what it has and improve non-research oriented programs, such as the College of Arts and Sciences? Is there a reason it can be nearly impossible to register for the classes you need to graduate because they have been cut, while programs that aren'tmedicine- or engineering-related are losing out?

Simpson and now Tripathi and Zukoski want people to come with dreams of grandeur and have a respectable, elite name on their diplomas, but currently, the University at Buffalo is a bargain, and that's why students come.

The students who are putting up the money now for it won't get to reap the benefits. Zukoski says it's civic duty for your alma mater and for personal pride, but that's nothing more than a selling point. The fact is that current students are not getting anything out of UB 2020 - not even a plan of what is to come or what their money will be going toward. All they know is their tuition will increase, and they may never get to see the reasons for the increase.

You know what would be nice? Letting students actually get the opportunity to finish their degrees without seeing tuition increases or having to scramble for money to stay another semester because of "civic duty."

At one point in the 20th century, UB had one of the best English schools in the country; we are currently ranked 41 on U.S. News Best College Rankings for English. A decline in the quality of our education is not something that will happen - it is something that is happening, and we're not fixing it.

On Jan. 23 and 24, there are open forums for the campus community to discuss the aspects of Realizing UB 2020 with Zukoski. We recommend - no, insist - you attend one of them to see what and for whom your tuition pays for.


Email: editorial@ubspectrum.com

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