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New head of SUNY Board of Trustees no stranger to politics

Carl McCall, the newly appointed Chair of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, is no stranger to New York politics and policy making. He sat down Monday to talk about his goals for SUNY and what he discerns in the Occupy Wall Street and now Occupy Albany movement.

Carl McCall has had a long and diversified career in public service, including the post of State Comptroller, ambassador to the U.N under former President Jimmy Carter, and Democratic Party nominee for
governor in 2002.

Now, McCall is Chair of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, and he was put there by his former primary rival in the gubernatorial race nine years ago, current Governor Andrew Cuomo. McCall, who won the primary after Cuomo dropped out, says that's all over.

"Politics is politics, you get in a fight," McCall said. "But you've got to move on from there."

McCall says another reason to forget the past is that he and Governor Cuomo share common goals for SUNY. McCall says the nation, as well as economically damaged upstate New York, are at a crossroads, and he says both believe that "government has a legitimate role to play in education", and that SUNY campuses, located all across the state can help. 

"There's a movement now in this administration, and we're going to be part of it, to do serious economic development and job creation in upstate New York," McCall said. 

McCall cites for example, Cuomo's infusion of capital into SUNY's four top university centers, that has attracted matching funds for technological development.

Just up the hill from the castle-like SUNY Central where McCall has an office, is the State Capitol, and in the adjacent park, there is a tent city created over the weekend by the Occupy Albany protesters.

One of the organizers, Colin Donnaruma, is a doctoral candidate in political economics at SUNY Albany. He's angered by budget cutbacks at the public colleges and universities, and says a plan to raise tuition each year for the next five years only furthers student debt.

"The fact that they just increased tuition by another 30% in this past legislative cycle is going to further disincentivize New York students from trying to pursue higher education," Donnaruma said. 

McCall says he understands concerns about tuition, but he says state lawmakers had been cutting SUNY's budget, by $1.4 billion dollars over the past four years.

"Those cuts had a real impact," said McCall, who said SUNY had to cut instructors and eliminate courses.

"Since the state wouldn't pay for it, we had to go to the families of the students," McCall said.

McCall says the total increase of $5200 is still affordable, and he says students whose families don't have enough money to pay can get financial aid.

McCall, who's also served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, and was a VP at Citicorp, says he agrees with some of the protesters' complaints about Wall Street excesses.

"Because of the lack of regulation over a period of time, they did a lot of bad things," said McCall, who says those bad actors should be held accountable and punished.

But he says New York and the nation need a healthy financial industry. "I don't think we should say that everybody on Wall Street is bad, everybody is greedy," he said.

McCall says the financial services industry is "critical" to New York and the nation's economy but says it has to be "properly regulated".

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.