September 1, 2009

Paterson Nominates Prof To SUNY Board of Trustees

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Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of industrial and labor relations and economics and member of the Cornell Board of Trustees, was nominated in May by Gov. David Paterson to serve on the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York (SUNY) school system.
Ehrenberg, a long-time professor at Cornell and author of the book Tuition Rising, which discusses the rapidly increasing price of tuition at many of America’s colleges, was nominated for the position because of his expertise on “public higher education.” Additionally, “both my wife and I, and lots of my relatives, are graduates of SUNY so I have a concern for the institution which is very, very deep,” Ehrenberg said.
As of yet, Ehrenberg is not on the board because his appointment is pending New York State Senate confirmation. Since the summer, many of the State Senate’s operations, such as confirmation hearings, have been backlogged because of a temporary hiatus that occurred when two democratic senators defected to the Republican Party, according to NPR. After the two senators — Hiram Monserrate (D-NY) and Pedro Espada (D-NY) — decided to vote with the Republicans, it essentially gave the Republicans a 32-30 majority. Monserrate soon after went back to the left side of the aisle, but Espada remained in the Republican camp.
With neither party having a majority, the Senate dissolved into a state of disarray. Both sides wanted to be in charge, but since there was no majority, the Senate was thrown into disarray and chaos. For around a month, no legislation was passed and no hearings, including that for Ehrenberg’s confirmation, were held. In one episode, the Republicans and Democrats vied to get to the podium in the Senate before the other so as to be able to wield the gavel that symbolized authority in the Senate. The hiatus cost taxpayers over $100,000, according to NPR.
The essential halt to legislation ceased when Espada went back to the Democrats after being promised a promotion to majority leader. While operations are back to normal, the Senate still has to make up for lost time. Ehrenberg is still awaiting his confirmation hearing, but he hopes it can now take place by the end of September so he can join the board for its October meeting.
Ehrenberg’s affiliation with both campuses will create some difficulties in terms of what meetings he can attend and for what decisions he can provide insight and recommendations.
“Whenever anything is discussed at Cornell that deals with SUNY, I can’t be present; and whenever anything is discussed at SUNY that deals with Cornell, I can’t be present,” Ehrenberg said.
In regards to his role on the board, Ehrenberg said, “The most important thing a board member can do is help make the whole better than the sum of its parts.” With its multi-campus system including many different types of institutions, this is an issue that is especially relevant to SUNY.