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Future of University at Buffalo unclear after "NY SUNY 2020"

UB 2020 was the brainchild of former University at Buffalo President John Simpson. Now that he's retired his legislative package has been jettisoned by dealings in Albany.
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UB 2020 was the brainchild of former University at Buffalo President John Simpson. Now that he's retired his legislative package has been jettisoned by dealings in Albany.


UB 2020 - the legislative package that University at Buffalo officials have championed for years as the area’s best vehicle for an economic revival - is facing a tough climb.

Hopes were high this March when the legislation passed the Senate, 55 to 1. As a candidate and during his tenor as governor, Cuomo voiced support for UB 2020.

But somewhere along the way he decided it was too expensive. And now, UB’s new president Satish Tripathi agrees with him.

What’s new?

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced NYSUNY 2020, a vastly scaled-down version of UB’s legislation, which now includes three other universities.

The old UB 2020 called for $5 billion in construction and investment in Buffalo, most of which would have come from the state and some from increased tuition. New buildings would have housed new faculty, research, and additional students, who would be paying newly increased tuition rates, to help fund the initiative.

UB is now in the same boat with three other schools, trying to make its case for $35 million from a $140 million pot of money now being called NY SUNY 2020.

“It really just scratches the surface of what UB 2020 wanted to do,” says Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (D-Cheektowaga).

The UB 2020 that’s been anticipated for years is, in all likelihood, gone, says Gabryszak.

“You’re looking at $35 million, which pales in comparison to what was originally planned. There is a lot of confusion as far as doing a comparison as to what part of UB 2020 is in this. What happens now that SUNY 2020 is here, does UB 2020 go by the wayside?” Gabryszak says.

UB 2020 was crafted years ago as an ambitious shot in the arm for Buffalo’s ailing economy. Eventually other SUNY schools got UB 2020 envy. And many wondered aloud: why should Buffalo get special privileges and money?

Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) ran on a UB 2020 platform and once claimed he wouldn’t vote for a budget that didn’t include its language. Now, his tone has changed.

“It was a pretty grandiose bill. Rather than trying to do everything all at once at a pretty hefty price tag that Governor Cuomo states is not there, and I think he’s right, is doing it in pieces,” Grisanti says.

Now what?

Under NY SUNY 2020, UB will be allowed to submit a plan similar to UB 2020 to the legislature, that will likely be considered piece by piece. The new package will strive for much less, and the timeline has been extended; 2020 is now more of a brand name than a date.

In short: the days of a package deal for UB 2020 that would give the school advantages over its peers appear to be over.

Still, Senator Mike Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst) cautiously calls the latest news a good first step.

“It’s better to have some positive results than nothing,” says Ranzenhofer.

A statewide summit about UB 2020 was called by Cuomo just last month, giving hope to supporters. Now, still without a date set, the question of whether the meeting will take place lingers - along with the fate of UB 2020.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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