No, this title is not a reference to the unsportsmanlike and dangerous behavior of the soccer player who recently attempted to sink his teeth into the shoulder of an opponent during a World Cup match but a reference to behavior that in my view represents a betrayal of trust to those who care about philanthropy, fair play and integrity.
The non-profit SUNY New Paltz Foundation has chosen to sue the Town of New Paltz over the town planning board’s decision to deny approval of a for-profit rental development project proposed by Wilmorite Corporation. The foundation is seeking to have the unanimous decision of the planning board overturned, which would allow Wilmorite to construct a 732-bed rental complex known as Park Point on foundation-owned land. The foundation would benefit from this arrangement through the lease of its property to a private corporation.
Over three years of investigation, however, revealed that the project would significantly add to the cost of community public-safety services, while the town, school district and county would forego the real-estate taxes normally paid on such a commercial rental enterprise. Essentially the taxpayers of New Paltz and our school district would subsidize a private developer who would then share its enormously increased profits with the SUNY Foundation through lease payments.
My attempts to interview the executive director or other representative of the SUNY Foundation were met with a brief reply from the current chairperson, stating in part, “The Park Point housing project, and our involvement in it, helps meet the college’s need for additional housing.”
Never before in the history of New York State has a SUNY campus sought to provide college housing at the expense of the taxpayers of the town in which the campus is located. Wilmorite and the SUNY Foundation choose to describe the rental project as providing “student housing” and “dormitories,” and yet the 13 buildings will not be served by the campus police nor built to SUNY Dormitory Authority energy conservation or construction standards. To date, SUNY New Paltz has neither explained the reasoning or logic behind the magic number of 732 beds nor provided any justification for evading normal SUNY practices of seeking state funding and utilizing a competitive bidding process for the building of student housing.
The mission of the college’s Department of Residence Life is “to enhance each resident student’s university experience by providing a variety of participatory opportunities for personal development through creating a purposeful living-learning environment that fosters leadership development, citizenship, and civility, while embracing the celebration and understanding of diversity.” I urge the members of the SUNY Foundation board of directors to familiarize themselves with the ten learning outcomes promised to the residential students of SUNY New Paltz and consider how any one of them will be achieved by those students living in the single-room-occupancy rental complex. I ask them to think about future students and their parents who are counting on a true “university experience.” It is time for the full membership of the board of directors to get involved and reconsider their support of the Park Point rental-housing project.
Having served for over seven years on the board of directors of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation between 1993 and 2000, with five of those years as treasurer and then chair, I am familiar with the mission of this organization. Its website informs donors that “Your contribution to the SUNY New Paltz Foundation supports scholarships, campus programs and student/faculty mentoring experiences.”
The lawsuit the foundation has chosen to join challenges the right of the Town of New Paltz to make land-use decisions based on its constitutionally protected right to home rule, land-use decisions that allow New Paltz to use the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) process to protect the economic and cultural environment of its residents. I wonder whether the foundation will now feel compelled to inform its donors that their contributions will be used in part for the foreseeable future to help fund the activities of foundation personnel focused on this lawsuit?
The board members of the SUNY Foundation have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to independently evaluate and verify the stated needs of the college as well as the proposed solutions presented by the college administration. Donors and local taxpayers have a right to know the justification for the foundation’s unprecedented action in suing the Town of New Paltz.
I can assure you (with apologies to Oldsmobile) that this is not your father’s SUNY New Paltz Foundation.