Neil, that's an interesting tidbit. You've got me hooked, so tell me more. When did thid happe? Why did Syracuse turn them down? Any chance it could still happen? It's a provocative idea. Too bad the name "NYU" is already taken.
The name would remain Syracuse University, after all, that is the 'brand name' the state is coveting. ;) If it were to happen it would be marketed something like Syracuse University, THE State University of New York.
The first time this was approached by the state was in the 70s when the university was facing a fiscal crisis, the second was in the mid-90s. The first time it was approached it was being modeled along the lines of Pitt when it went quasi-public in 1966, with the executive and legislative bodies of the state being heavily involved in finances, appropriations, etc.
It never got past 'initial feelers' since Syracuse University is proud of its private background and prefers the freedom of being a private.
I'd lay odds SUNY has also tried this with Cornell (though I have no knowledge of this being so), since the state has a relationship with them as well.
As for any chance of it ever happening, I seriously doubt it, but I wouldn't say never either. The current Chancellor is very big on what the university can do for the local area as well as the state, nation and international impact of the university.
She also wants SU to become a premier research institution and since that is now tied to science, engineering, and medicine the best chance of achieving this, as I see it, is through the combination of the following:
1) Syracuse Univeristy's already golden reputation in terms of public policy, social science, information studies, and media research;
2) Cantor and Vice Chancellor Spina's vision of continuing to improve the research reputation of the LC Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science;
3) the fledgling Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems becoming a success;
4) the current SUNY ESF mission and research dovetailing nicely with the mission and research being done at the CoE; and
5) the increase emphasis on improving the research with the hiring of Chancellor Smith at SUNY Upstate Medical.
Only the latter is the biggest question mark in this speculative way to help SU reach Cantor's goal of the university becoming a premiere research university and really the least important of the dominoes that need to fall to possibly bring it about.
Of course, the biggest stumbling block to the overall concept of the SU becoming a quasi-public university is if the State continues to insist upon the executive and legislative bodies having a significant input into SU's finances. However, I think the time is coming when Systems Administration is going to allow more and more of the SUNY campuses more autonomy over their finances and become more of a collector of reporting information.