The State University of New York (SUNY, 64 campuses) recently held a conference themed "Harnessing Systemness: Delivering Performance." It had an amazing agenda, with speakers worth listening to. They shared many different opinions about systems: Their value, their cost, their effectiveness. The goal is to find ways to better align the SUNY system elements as a system. We wish we had been there. If you were, please come over to the Mojo and tell us your thoughts.
Many here acknowledged the tensions between flagship and non-flagship institutions, and between all kinds of institutions and systems. Zimpher noted that before becoming chancellor of SUNY, she led two institutions (the University of Cincinnati and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee) that are the second doctoral institutions in their states. So she said she knows what it's like to assume that the flagship has all the advantages. Jane Wellman, executive director of the National Association of System Heads, said that resentment of flagships is hardly new, and has been going on for as long as there have been multiple institutions in states.
That "systemness"—a term coined by Ms. Zimpher to describe what she sees as the unifying value of a central governance system—is the topic of a conference being held here this week by the chancellor. Only through cooperation and innovation, she says, can university systems finally make progress toward solving big societal problems that are beyond the scope of individual colleges.
"Why wouldn't that be a model for 49 other states?" she asked rhetorically during the conference on Thursday.
Not All Systems Work
One reason that the SUNY model wont't necessarily work in other states is that having a comprehensive statewide higher-education system does not simply correlate with academic or economic success, said Patrick M. Callan, who was president of the National Center for Higher Education and Public Policy.