COBLESKILL — As the incoming leader of the nation’s largest union for professionals working in higher education jobs, Fred Kowal has an ambitious agenda that includes giving his organization greater clout in the halls of the state Capitol.
A social sciences professor with a specialty in Native American studies at the State University at Cobleskill campus, Kowal, 54, will be installed on June 1 as president of the United University Professionals, the statewide faculty union boasting some 35,000 members.
In an interview in a former dormitory room that serves as his office, Kowal said one of his objectives is to get his union to recognize its own innate strength.
“There is a great deal of diversity with the campuses, and what I want to do is raise the varying levels of activism from region to region, so that the union has more real political power,” he said. His priorities, he said, include fighting efforts to privatize some operations at the state medical centers in Brooklyn and Syracuse.
Forging relationships with key lawmakers, he said, can pay dividends for UUP.
The membership includes those with faculty jobs and other professional positions at all 64 campuses in the system, which, in addition to Kowal’s own Cobleskill campus, includes the State University College at Oneonta and the State University at Delhi campuses,
“We have one of the least-funded state universities in the country,” said Kowal, whose activism with the union began in the early 1990s.
Among the lawmakers Kowal said he has found very responsive to SUNY’s needs is state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
“Jim Seward has been very supportive of SUNY,” said Kowal, a native of the blue-collar town of Chicopee, Mass. “A large part of that is because we have built this close relationship with the folks who live in his district. I want to expand that throughout the state so that UUP’s presence is right there in the district, dealing with legislators who are aware of our concerns and interests, and how we have common ground with their political agendas.”