The State University of New York is a system of public institutions of higher education in New York, United States. It is one of the largest comprehensive systems of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the United States with a total enrollment of 606,232 students, plus 1.1 million adult education students, spanning 64 campuses across the state.
The State University of New York was established in 1948 by Governor Thomas E. Dewey, through legislative implementation of recommendations made by the Temporary Commission on the Need for a State University (1946–1948). The Commission was chaired by Owen D. Young, who was at the time Chairman of the General Electric Company. The system was greatly expanded during the administration of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, who took a personal interest in design and construction of new SUNY facilities across the state.
The first colleges were established privately, with some arising from local seminaries. But New York state had a long history of supported higher education prior to the creation of the SUNY system. The oldest college that is part of the SUNY System is SUNY Potsdam, established in 1816 as the St. Lawrence Academy. In 1835, the State Legislature acted to establish stronger programs for public school teacher preparation and designated one academy in each senatorial district to receive money for a special teacher-training department. The St. Lawrence Academy received this distinction and designated the village of Potsdam as the site of a Normal School in 1867.
On October 8, 1953, SUNY took a historic step of banning national fraternities and sororities that discriminated based on race or religion from its 33 campuses. Various fraternities challenged this rule in court. As a result, national organizations felt pressured to open their membership to students of all races and religions.
Despite being one of the last states in the nation to establish a state university, the system was quickly expanded during the chancellorship of Samuel B. Gould and the administration of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, who took a personal interest in the design and construction of new SUNY facilities across the state.
The state of New York assists in financing the SUNY system, which, along with CUNY, provides lower-cost college-level education to residents of the state. SUNY students also come from out-of-state and 171 foreign countries, though tuition is higher for these students. Although tuition is higher for these non-resident students, their tuition is subsidized by New York State taxpayers.
There is a large variety of colleges in the SUNY system with some overlap in specialties between sites. SUNY divides its campuses into four distinct categories: university centers/doctoral-granting institutions, comprehensive colleges, technology colleges, and community colleges. SUNY also includes statutory colleges, state-funded colleges within other institutions such as Cornell University and Alfred University. Students at the statutory colleges have the benefit of state-subsidized tuition while receiving all of the campus life amenities of the host institutions.
In the 1970s, students pressed for voting representation on the governing board of SUNY colleges. In 1971, the State Legislature added five student voting members to Cornell’s Board of Trustees. However, at that time, all members of a board must be over the age of 21 for a corporation to hold a liquor license, so to allow Cornell to retain its license, the legislature had to go back to amend NYS Alcoholic Beverage Control Law § 126(4) to require half the board must be 21.
In 1975, the legislature added a non-voting student seat to the boards of all SUNY units. Two Attorney General of the State of New York opinion letters reduced the parliamentary rights of the student members to participate at meetings and indicated they were not in fact Public Officers, and arguably subject to personal liability from lawsuits. In 1977, another statutory amendment made student members of SUNY councils and boards subject to the NYS Public Officers Law or NYS General Municipal Law and granted student representatives parliamentary powers of moving or seconding motions and of placing items on the agendas of the bodies. Finally, the legislature gave full voting rights to the student members in 1979, resulting in the students of all SUNY units having voting representatives, except for the NYS College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Finally, in 1986, the legislature gave the student representative of that college voting rights as well.