An interesting article in the Buffalo News from this weekend, one which ties in nicely with last week’s post about the public perception of higher education institutions.

SUNY at Buffalo is, by far, the largest university in Western New York. UB2020 is an ambitious plan to further expand it, both in population and geography, to rival the large public research universities in other states.

This article asks whether chasing research dollars is going to have a negative effect on the quality of undergraduate education at the institution.

12 Responses to “UB2020”

  1. BrianN says:

    Without re3ading the article, I’ll ask a different question:

    Is chasing research dollars (much of which comes from the federal govt.) really a smart thing to do when there will clearly be less support (or at least not more) in the near future.

    I like the addition of new positions, but more deer means more starving deer.

  2. matt says:


    You’re in the academic world yourself, more or less. When’s the last time you heard of a college going out of business? Antioch, back in ’08 – can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

    It seems that the responsible thing to do would be to fold together some of the underenrolled, underperforming schools. Less deer, less starving. Sure would put a hurting on the job market for provosts and VPs, though.

    I think something like the UB2020 plan would be improved if they just came right out and said “this is going to become a graduate level research institution. Undergraduate education will be handled by the currently completely redundant Buffalo State College.”

  3. BrianN says:

    Well, that’s not quite what I meant.

    In the sciences, having research faculty greatly increases the quality of undergraduate education. I know there are profs who hate teaching, can’t teach etc., but that is far outweighed by two things: 1) people in research positions have to keep up with the latest science and are inherently knowledgeable about what needs to be taught to undergrads to succeed (since they see what happens when they get poorly taught undergrads). 2) the ability for undergrads to engage in real research is an indispensable asset to undergrad education.

    I actually left St. John Fisher and paid a lot more money to go to UR as an undergrad for these reasons, and am really happy I did.

  4. matt says:


    So your contention would be that expanding the research profile of the university would be beneficial to the education of the rank-and-file undergrads?

  5. BrianN says:

    It all depends on what you want out your undergraduate education, and how faculty hiring is done and teaching loads are set. Jin was offered a job at a CUNY college that wanted to “expand their research profile,” but they also wanted her to teach three classes a semester. That’s just impossible to do well, and since tenure descisions are made largely on research, would certainly have led to the teaching end suffering. She turned it down because it was a recipe for failure, but some sap is trying to make it work.

    However, most true research universities have lighter teaching loads, which let you do a good job with the time you have and still do enough research to be competetive for grants.

    Consider that those faculty’s salaries come from both the institute and thier grants: the ratio depends on the institute, but some places it’s 100% from grant money, places like UR, which are also focused on teaching, it might be closer to 80% from the institute (you actually have to negotiate this when offered a job). But usually the more you teach, the more salary comes from the institute.

    I don’t know what you mean by rank and file? If you want to get into med school, having some research experience helps, if you want to go into biotech, you abolutely need it. If you want a professor who is caught up on the latest science, you want one who is actually doing it.

  6. matt says:


    See, I think that we’re discussing this in very different lights because we think of college as very different things. For you, it’s someplace like UR or Columbia — a primarily research oriented, large university. For me, it’s someplace like the schools I’ve worked at – lots of teaching, relatively little original research aside from a handful of particularly motivated faculty.

    When I say “rank-and-file” undergrads, I don’t mean the superstars in the biology program who are going on to med school or PhD programs. I mean the Comm Studies major who is taking Intro to Zoology as a science core curriculum credit. The vast majority of undergrads are, well, average. One might consider it tautological. And they need to be taken care of.

    The latest advances in biochemistry are no doubt fascinating to the next generation of serious scientists(tm), but are probably not helpful – maybe even detrimental – in a class still struggling to figure out the difference between mitosis and meiosis.

  7. BrianN says:

    Well,, maybe we are thinking of different things, but any student in a Science program should have some exposure to original research, otherwise, you haven’t really learned any science, someone just told you a bunch of facts. Also, even for the average student, curriculum needs to be updated pretty frequently, there are some things that are for the ages, and some things that are not. 20 years ago, any biochem student had to learn about hybridization kinetics, today every bio student needs to know statistics of large data sets. Not just the top, but a large percentage. When I was an undergrad nobody thought stats mattered for Bio students at all.

    As for the Comm student taking intro to zoology, I don’t think it’s any more appropriate for a professor, who gets paid 100k+, to be spending his time teaching that, than it would be for a highly paid mechanical engineer to spend his time fixing a old Volvo Amazon 😉 I think the stereotype of the indian math grad student teaching calc to 1st years is a bit overplayed, not that it doesn’t happen, but I was good teacher in my grad school, and so were lots of my friends (though we never had to teach an intro course).

    So hiring an adjunct or something to do that is pretty appropriate. It’s a pretty stress free life, compared to research, so that can be good for the teacher (we’ve thought about it for Jin for short periods if we had another kid). And for the school, they don’t need the high salary, and they don’t get tenure, so if they suck you can fire them.

  8. BrianN says:

    Anyways, I always thought of UB as an engineering school. And isn’t it a pretty well respected one?

  9. matt says:


    You know how schools are. Everyone wants to expand. UB is a pretty good engineering school – my brother-in-law got his MechE there, and he’s happy with it – but they want to be everything to everyone. Their goal is to be like UT Austin, or Cal Berkeley, or Penn State – they want to be _the_ public university in New York State.

    As for the rest of it, I think we are definitely coming at the whole school question from different angles. At SLACs, there is nothing more important than teaching. The tenure process, promotions, evaluations, recruitment – everything is based around the idea that you’ll be dealing with undergrads in the classroom. At big schools, not so much. Not that either one is bad, I think both types of schools are essential. They’re just very different in terms of what they expect from the faculty and students.

  10. Pitt says:

    Hey, at least when your highly paid MechE works on your 45 year old Volvo, you know he’s going to remember to put back all the various drain plugs.

    Oh wait. Crap.

    I did look at UB for MechE, but ultimately didn’t want to go to a school that huge. Plus the dorms reminded me of prisons. You’re right about the expanding, matt. RPI’s been trying to branch out since I was there. I disagree with that philosophy, personally. When you’ve got 175+ years worth of heritage and prominence in the engineering world, why would you want to risk that to crowd in a few more MBA’s and visual arts students? Stick to what you’re good at.

  11. matt says:


    Small schools seem to be good at picking their niche. I worked for Trocaire College, in South Buffalo, for a couple of years. They are a two year school next to Mercy Hospital, and they are primarily a nursing and medical technology school. That’s it. They have a couple of other programs, but the majority of their resources go to keeping up the nursing program.

    Mid-size schools trying to become large schools, on the other hand, are the worst. Canisius has a habit of endlessly starting up programs, underfunding them, and then letting them fail. At least half a dozen programs have gone under in the last ten years or so, mostly because they never seem to get enough resources to attract students and actually become worthwhile.

  12. BrianN says:

    Yeah, I agree with you all there. And certainly the UB thing sounds like it’s completely oversold, and I think it would be worthwhile to compare the histories of silicon valley, Boston, RTP and San Diego, to get a sence of how tech centers really get started. I don’t think in any of those cases it started with expansion of a University.

    Besides, UR has been doing this too, they already have a teaching hospital, several research institutes, and a few start-up companies. So does Cornell.

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