UB Council discusses campus renovations, student debt

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UB used revenue from NYSUNY 2020’s rational tuition program to hire 277 new faculty members from the time of the plan’s inception in 2011 to the end of 2014. But the additional faculty may have limited space on campus.

“The north campus is more crowded, we’ve hired new faculty,” said President Satish Tripathi at a UB Council meeting Monday. “Our research portfolio has increased as well. The students need more learning space. We want to create more room.”

Renovations and expansions for UB’s three campuses, as well as tuition rates and student loan debt, were discussed at the first UB Council meeting of the semester in Capen Hall Monday morning.

Tripathi said UB is looking for $100 million from the state over the next five years to improve campus facilities and create “modern spaces.” The university recently began its Heart of the Campus initiative to make renovations on North, South and the downtown Medical Campus.

The first step of the project is renovating the third floor of the Oscar Silverman Library in Capen. Construction is set to begin in April.

“The project has already begun on a small scale, but there’s a lot more work to be done,” Tripathi said.

Tripathi said $15 million of capital project funds are set to go to South Campus, where the Graduate School of Education and the School of Social Work are set to move once the medical schools have moved to the downtown campus. Tripathi said this would help alleviate crowdedness and free up space on north campus. The renovations for South Campus were a specific concern for council members at Monday’s meeting.

“What’s happening on the South Campus concerns us all,” said Jeremy Jacobs, UB Council chairman. “How are we going to sustain these great institutions we have here?”

Tripathi said it’s critical UB gets money to renovate its older buildings, citing three water breaks in one week – including the incident that led to the power outage in Red Jacket Quadrangle in February that displaced 500 students for a night – as a reason why.

“The facilities are very old,” Tripathi said. “Five hundred students had to be accommodated outside their living spot. Some of that is because facilities are in need of dire renovation.”

Vice president of University Life and Services Dennis Black said requesting bonding funds through the Dormitory Authority State of New York is “one of the options” UB is looking at for dormitory renovations.

Tripathi also advocated on Monday for the rational tuition plan that limits SUNY campuses to $300 tuition increases annually. He said UB supports extending the program for another five years, which is set to expire at the end of 2016. UB’s tuition is set to increase $300 annually for the next six years.

“The tuition has been really affordable [under the rational tuition program],” Tripathi said. “Our students have one of the least amounts of debt. The national average is 50 percent more … it means our tuition is affordable, and we’re preparing our students for the job market to be able to pay back the loans that they have, and we’re not pricing out our students.”

Tripathi said UB students have a default rate of 4.5 percent on their loans, and that the national average is almost three times that.

Provost Charles Zukoski said students should budget their money and be conscious of the student loans debt they’ll have to repay after graduation, and UB should help them do that.

“Give up your cappuccino now because here’s what it’s going to cost you after you graduate,” Zukoski said.

A. Scott Weber, vice provost for Academic Affairs, said he and Black are looking to improve academic career services by developing programs that identify students’ skills to find jobs after graduation – but not necessarily to help students pay their loans back.

“That’s not our responsibility, but we’re telling students their skills that go beyond their disciplinary strengths,” Weber said.

Tom Dinki is a senior news editor and can be contacted at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com