Chancellor Johnson Outlines Vision For a Sustainable and Increasingly Innovative SUNY in First State of the University System Address

January 22, 2018

Calls For Doubling of Research and Innovation

Calls For 100% Energy Procurement from Renewable Sources and Deep Energy Retrofitting

In her first State of the University System address, Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson outlined her vision for the future of The State University of New York, highlighting the four themes that will be at the foundation of her chancellorship: innovation and entrepreneurship, individualized education, sustainability, and strategic partnerships. Formed following her travels across the state to meet the students, faculty, and leadership at SUNY campuses, the themes mark a new era of leadership for SUNY.

“In my travels to the campuses, I have developed a soaring pride that SUNY is able to offer its students so many different opportunities to build a better world,” said Chancellor Johnson. “Each SUNY school is distinctive, with its own history, legacy, and future, but each is also the cultural and economic heart of its community—offering crucial resources for local businesses as well as educating their workforces.”

In support of her vision for SUNY, she also announced several strategic partnerships that will jumpstart her ambitious plans for public higher education in New York State.

Doubling Research and Innovation

Chancellor Johnson—an energy expert, researcher, and entrepreneur, as well as experienced educator—called for a doubling of research and innovation across the SUNY System in the next decade.

“In terms of education and research, the boundaries between disciplines are disappearing,” she said. “For SUNY to be a leader in this next century and realize the potential of artificial and augmented intelligence, we need to increase the cross-disciplinary research, scholarly work, and outreach we do.”

This goal will be achieved in part by expanding student opportunities and internships in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, and their applications to education and healthcare, and by making targeted investments in research and faculty development.

Individualized Education on a State-wide Scale

To continue to build a more individualized SUNY experience, Chancellor Johnson urged a strengthened commitment to ensure every student is given the tools, support, and safety needed to complete her or his education.

“An individual education is not just about helping our students chart a course through our classrooms,” she said. “It is about helping students with different backgrounds and different resources succeed. Thanks to the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship Program, the Tuition Assistance Program, and other state scholarships, half of our students now attend college tuition-free. But tuition alone is not enough to help all of our students stay in school and finish their degrees. Other financial concerns, academic barriers, and the general unpredictability of life are challenges we need to be prepared to help our students overcome.”

To that end, she called for new student emergency aid programming – currently being piloted at seven SUNY campuses to address family emergencies and unexpected financial hardships – to be expanded to all 64 campuses. At one campus, a similar program used funds of as little as $100 to help 87 percent of the students return to class and remain on track to finish their degrees.

In addition, she pushed to join Governor Cuomo in his fight to end hunger with the creation of a food pantry on every campus and pledged to continue to lead the way in preventing sexual assault and violence.

Sustainable SUNY

In addition to research, Chancellor Johnson called for purchasing 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-carbon sources and deep energy retrofits at SUNY campuses, which represent 40 percent of state-owned buildings, and announced the goal to source 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-net carbon sources as soon as possible. Such a change would reduce New York’s carbon footprint by 400,000 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. She also called for all new SUNY buildings to be designed to achieve zero-net carbon emissions.

“The United States has to get a grip on our carbon emissions. And SUNY, as an engine of innovation, has a major responsibility to lead,” she said. “Certainly, our students, who are highly committed to sustainability, want and expect us to lead. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo is one of the nation’s most important leaders on this issue.”

To support this effort, she announced a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support eligible SUNY campuses to develop energy master plans and provide access to on-site energy managers who can identify areas for improvement, engage in strategic planning and feasibility studies, and implement changes to achieve greater sustainability all across SUNY.

Investing in the Future

For the final theme of her vision, Chancellor Johnson urged an increase in strategic partnerships with state, national, and international organizations that will broaden SUNY’s reach and impact.

In support of this goal, she announced a new collaboration with Empire State Development (ESD) and four venture capital funds selected to administer the Innovation Technology Commercialization Investment Funds—an $8 million pool of capital that invests in high-growth potential, pre-seed stage firms. This partnership increases the number of SUNY-affiliated companies considered for investment and provides them with valuable feedback to help strengthen their business.

To further support this strategic growth, she announced the creation of a System-wide endowment to be supported by foundations, individual donors, and companies.

“The endowment needs to be a hybrid model—where we put in place a system-wide endowment that provides resources to our schools, but does not compete with the philanthropic activities of the individual colleges and universities,” said Chancellor Johnson.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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