It’s Not Rocket Science


At this moment in time, Oxford University has compiled an absolutely, fairly unique list of the ten most irritating phrases in the English language. With all due respect, I personally think it’s a nightmare to limit the list to only ten. But, at the end of the day, Oxford provides a fair start to an effort that should continue 24/7 until all irritating phrases are eliminated.

My nominee for eleventh place on the list, “not for nothing.”


Democrats Dominate

In New York, as in much of the nation, November 4, 2008 was a very good night for the Democrat Party.

For the first time since 1965 Democrats are the majority party in the State Senate. With decisive victories against two long serving incumbents, Caesar Trunzo of Long Island and Serphin Maltese of Queens, Democrats gained a 32-30 majority. Congratulations to Brian Foley and Joseph Addabbo in their respective wins.

Republican challengers were unable to unseat their top two targets, upstate Democrats Bill Stachowski of Buffalo and Darryl Aubertine of Watertown. Republicans also failed to put a dent in Westchester Democrat Suzi Oppenheimer despite the presence of a talented and aggressive challenger campaign.

The Democrat majority may grow by one additional seat as election officials count and re-count the returns in the Queens race pitting Democrat challenger James Gennaro against longtime Republican incumbent Frank Padavan. At this writing Padavan maintained an 800 vote lead.

Many observers, myself included, predict that there will soon be a spate of Republican retirements in the State Senate as many aging and long-serving Republican Senators opt for an exit rather than minority-party status – which in Albany is more accurately described as second-class citizen status. Democrats would seem well positioned to make additional gains in open-seat elections should this come to pass.

With a governing majority the Democrats are poised to dominate all levels of state politics for the foreseeable future as their victories will enable them to administer the 2010 reapportionment with virtually no input from the Republicans – assuming they can use the enormous advantages of incumbency and the dramatically improved fundraising prospects of the majority to maintain control in the 2010 election.

The one glitch in the Democrat takeover of the Senate is the creation of a four member “Independent Caucus” of Democrats (Pedro Espada Jr. and Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Hiram Monserrate of Queens) who may cast their dice with the Republican minority. However, this possibility seems unlikely.

The Democrats, who already enjoy a more than 2-1 edge in the State Assembly, also picked up three Congressional seats held by Republicans. Along the Southern Tier, challenger Eric Massa beat incumbent John “Randy” Kuhl. On Staten Island, Michael McMahon gained the open seat of Vito Fossella and in central New York, Dan Maffai became the replacement of Jim Walsh.

NYS Financial Meltdown – $47 billion over 4 years

If you are trying to get a handle on the magnitude of New York’s budget woes, this presentation by Governor Paterson’s Budget Director is quite helpful. While it does include some projections that are not universally supported, it does a very good job of putting the current situation into context.


Margolis Named State Librarian


The Board of Regents today announced the appointment of Bernard A.
Margolis as the New York State Librarian. He will assume his new responsibilities in January 2009.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said, “We live in an age of information, and libraries play a critical role in providing us with access to that information. They are vital to our economy and our communities. They promote literacy and lifelong learning. And in these trying economic times, they are vital to people seeking information about jobs. I am thrilled that the Regents have appointed a dynamic and innovative person like Mr. Margolis to serve in the critically important position of State Librarian.”

The New York State Library provides information and library services through its Research Library and the Division of Library Development.
Mr. Margolis will have oversight responsibility for a $13.4 million operating budget, 180 employees, over 20 million collection items and nearly $100 million in State and federal aid to libraries.

One of the largest research libraries in North America, the New York State Research Library is the only state library which is a member of the Association of Research Libraries. The Library’s holdings include a significant manuscript and rare book collection, as well as holdings in a wide variety of formats, including paper, microform, digital and electronic records. It is also a Federal Depository and Patent Library; has the responsibility for the acquisition, distribution and maintenance of New York State documents; and is a regional library for the blind and visually impaired in New York’s 55 upstate counties.

The Division of Library Development provides leadership and technical assistance to New York’s 73 library systems through a comprehensive program of State aid for public, school, academic and special library services. Staff experts work with librarians, trustees, school administrators, public officials and local leaders to solve problems and find new ways of making library services and resources available to their community. Library Development administers more than $100 million in State and federal aid to New York’s libraries and helps them to take full advantage of federal and private funding programs like E-rate telecommunications discounts and Gates Library Foundation grants.

Mr. Margolis served as the President of Boston Public Library (BPL), Boston, Massachusetts, from 1997 to 2008. BPL is the oldest municipal public library in the country, with 27 neighborhood branches. The Library’s collections of over 34 million items include the library of President John Adams, Shakespeare’s first folio, Gutenberg’s Catholicon, and many other unique and rare materials. BPL is a member of the Association of Research Libraries.

Mr. Margolis’s achievements as BPL president include expansion of branch library hours; appointment of a children’s librarian in every branch; creation of a nationally recognized Homework Assistance Program and online tutoring program; implementation of Reading Readiness to prepare preschoolers for school success; creation of local history centers in eight branch libraries; creation of the award-winning Norman B. Leventhal Map Center; development of a collection conservation program; and growth of the BPL’s trust funds from $37 million to $55 million. Under Mr. Margolis’s leadership, BPL secured $7 million of direct grants and $18 million in federal funds for technology improvements and many foundation grants, designated gift funds, and major bequests.

Mr. Margolis led the effort to restore and renovate the historic central library building, securing funding from a number of sources. He worked with the City of Boston to establish a critical repair fund, allowing BPL to address building and equipment repairs in a timely manner. BPL collaborated with other cultural institutions and more than 4,500 different community groups and organizations.

Mr. Margolis holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Librarianship, both from the University of Denver. His library experience includes management and executive positions in libraries and library systems in Colorado and Michigan. Prior to moving to Boston, he served as Director/CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs (from 1988 to 1997).

Mr. Margolis’s service includes a number of elected positions within the American Library Association, leadership in the Association of Research Libraries, service as a professional delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries, and service on the boards of library organizations in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Michigan. He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Library Administration and Bottom
Line: The Magazine of Library Financial Management. He has contributed to several books and has published articles in American Libraries, Pub¬lic Libraries, and Library Journal.

Economic Development Commissioner Named

Governor David A. Paterson today announced that he has nominated Marisa Lago, who is Acting President and Chief Executive Officer of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), as Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development. Ms. Lago will have complete oversight of economic development issues throughout New York State.

Ms. Lago was the Global Head of Compliance for Citi Markets & Banking, overseeing all compliance matters for Citi’s capital markets, investment and corporate banking, and transaction services businesses, which operate in more than 90 countries around the world.

Prior to joining Citi, Ms. Lago worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as Director of the Office of International Affairs. Ms. Lago’s diverse professional career has also included serving as Chief Economic Development Officer of the City of Boston and Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, as well as General Counsel of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Ms. Lago graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1982, and earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physics from Cooper Union.

Fiscal Watch Blogging, the Manhattan Institute’s seven-year-old website focusing on New York budget and finance issues, has been updated and expanded into a blog featuring daily commentary by two of the Institute’s leading analysts—E.J. McMahon and Nicole Gelinas. McMahon, the Institute’s senior fellow for tax and budgetary studies, is also director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy. Gelinas is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and contributing editor of City Journal.

Hayden on SUNY Cuts

Carl Hayden, Chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees made the following remarks at a one-day conference held at the Rockefeller Institute in Albany, New York. The following paragraphs are lifted from an October 7, 2008 article in New York Newsday.

“Hayden faulted Gov. David Paterson’s directives to cut the SUNY budget along with other branches of state government, saying the strong focus on education and training energized economies in China and Ireland, for example, and there is now “a massive competition worldwide” for intellectual capital that the United States no longer dominates. He said the state needs economic diversification and has come to rely too much on Wall Street.

“The future belongs to those who best create, nurture and commercialize intellectual capital,” Hayden said. “You can’t cut your way out of a recession.”

Hayden pointed to the $1 billion investment in the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany that has resulted in cutting-edge research and 3,000 high-technology jobs, including 1,000 researchers representing 250 companies.

Instead of cutting funding for higher education and research, he said the state should remove restrictions on the ways the universities engage in “mixed use activities,” where they can sell, lease or make other beneficial arrangements with their property without first having to get slow approvals from the attorney general and state comptroller.”

Governor Nice Guy?

New York magazine takes a long look at Governor David Paterson. Though I wonder how long the Governor will be able to keep his “good guy” image while the state budget continues its downward spiral.

State Librarian Search Update

Five finalists were recently invited to the Cultural Education Center, here in Albany for interviews and all accepted. The interviews have been concluded and on the afternoon of October 2nd the Search Committee met with the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education, Jeffrey W. Cannell, to discuss the five finalists.

Deputy Commissioner Cannell is expected to make his recommendation to the Board of Regents shortly. Connell envisions introducing the successful candidate at the forthcoming 2008 New York Library Association Annual Conference scheduled for November 5 – 8, 2008, in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Rawlings on CHE Recommendations

Hunter Rawlings, former Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education, recently wrote about the status of his commission’s recommendations, which were delivered to the Governor in June of 2008.

Time to make New York great at university level

New York State has, yet again, lost an opportunity to start building world-class public universities. The combination of the debacle in the governor’s office last March and the current crisis on Wall Street has killed the latest attempt to put this state on the higher education map at a time when others have made public research universities the cornerstone of their strategies for cultural and economic development.

How long will it be before New York, which depends so heavily on one industry, the financial sector, can muster the will to try again?

In May 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed an executive order establishing a State Commission on Higher Education, which he asked me to chair. He said at the time, “Excellence in higher education is a key to our state’s future. … This new commission will help identify innovative, cutting edge ideas and necessary improvements that will … make New York’s higher educational system a world-class institution.”

The membership included education leaders from throughout the state, the dean of the Harvard Law School, and key members of the Assembly and Senate. In June 2008 the commission produced the “bold and actionable” recommendations Spitzer had requested, warning that “the powerful position that New York State once enjoyed in national research standings has faded. Whereas the State captured 10 percent of the nation’s academic research and development spending in 1980, today that number stands at 7.9 percent. … Using just this one measure … more than $2.2 billion and over 27,000 jobs have been lost in the State.”

SUNY and CUNY (the City University of New York, the other public university system in the state), the commission concluded, have a chronic problem: too little revenue, too little investment and too much regulation. Among the serious detrimental effects: a “backlog of critical maintenance of more than $5 billion and increased hiring of part-time, less expensive faculty. Failure to invest in a strong base of full-time faculty poses the single greatest threat to academic quality. Equally troubling is the dramatic rise in mandatory fees – student charges that are not covered by New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program – imposed in an effort to maintain an adequate level of resources.”

The recommendations? Increase differentiation among campuses, focus upon creating a few top research institutions, reducing bureaucracy, and improving access for students wanting to transfer from community colleges. We also proposed a new investment in full-time faculty to make up ground lost in repeated reductions over the past two decades, and the hiring of some academic superstars to help win research funds that would attract outstanding graduate students, drive scientific discoveries and assist in the vital process of technology transfer. The commission also called for enhanced opportunities for members of ethnic minorities, the fastest growing communities in the state, to attend and graduate from college.

Today, less than one year after the Commission’s preliminary report, where are we? I am tempted to say, “nowhere.” SUNY and CUNY have begun to act upon a few of the proposals that don’t cost money, such as streamlining administration, refocusing the SUNY board to concentrate on research and graduate programs, and improving articulation with community colleges. For the most part, however, the report has been, like so many of its predecessors, put on the shelf.

SUNY and CUNY and Cornell’s land grant colleges have just endured their latest round of severe budget cuts. Gov. David A. Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have plenty else to occupy them, given the state’s and city’s economic woes. The rest of the state, like most of the country, is transfixed by dramatic events in the financial sector. Why pay attention to a report rendered “academic” by today’s giant headlines?

Here’s why. New York State has for too long placed almost all its bets on one industry – the financial sector. That industry has been remarkably successful, but it has meteoric ups and downs, and the state budget goes up and down with it, to the long-term detriment of education and the good of its citizens. It is time for state leaders to take a long-term view of New York’s future, and to recognize, as Michigan and California and North Carolina and Georgia have done, that higher education, particularly top research universities, is the key to the intellectual and economic future in a knowledge economy. Those states understand what great research universities do: They win hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal grants and contracts, make discoveries that lead to new patents, and help create new businesses and attract other businesses from out of state.

Look at what the Research Triangle in the midst of UNC Chapel Hill, Duke and North Carolina State has done for North Carolina, or what Silicon Valley, in proximity to Stanford and Berkeley, has accomplished in California. Top research universities also attract excellent students, especially graduate students, from other states and countries around the world. Those students bring with them brainpower as well as tuition dollars, and many of them stay to become scientific and business leaders in their adopted homes.

To put it simply: in today’s competitive global economy, intellectual talent wins, and great research universities import and develop intellectual talent generation after generation. China and India have figured this out; it’s time New York did the same.

New York is fortunate to have Cornell, Columbia and NYU, three great private universities that bring huge influxes of talent and research to the state. But New York has neglected its public universities shamefully. The Commission on Higher Education recommended steady, long-term investment in SUNY and CUNY – consistent, predictable appropriations rather than raising and cutting budgets on a completely unpredictable schedule.

The same goes for tuition: Don’t hold it down for years, then allow big, one-time increases to make up the ground. Instead, provide for reasonable annual increases that enable administrators to plan ahead, develop long-term strategies, and implement them with some degree of confidence.

We recommended a focus upon a few graduate campuses to enable them compete for top faculty and student talent.

Even with such investment and attention, it will be a long time before New York can claim to have built a Berkeley or University of Michigan. But it had better start sometime. Perhaps it takes a crisis to muster the will to begin.

Hunter R. Rawlings III is professor of classics and history and president emeritus at Cornell University.