Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Crisis at SUNY

Today, I attended one of the townhall forums hosted by the President, Provost, and CFO. I thought I was up on the latest budget happenings, but the information provided by CFO Kathy Lowry about UAbany's budget situation is far worse than I'd realized.

A few notable highlights:

--The University is increasing tuition for students by $300 in the spring semester. This money would help offset a small portion of the budget cuts exacted by the governor. The problem is that the legislature did not vote Nov. 19th to allow the SUNYs to spend that revenue. So, the money, as of now, cannot be spent.

--The University is bound by contract to pay union negotiated salary increases, but the state is not going to provide the University the additional revenue to pay for those salary increases. That money will then have to come from somewhere in the budget.

--The SUNY system is considered a state agency, and the governor has sole discretion to increase or cut higher education at his discretion with no input from the legislature. So far, Patterson has cut the budget for SUNY by over 10%. President Phillips described it as: a university research center, a four year comprehensive center, a technical center, and the entire SUNY central administration would need to be dissolved in order for the SUNY system to break even under the current budget constraints.

--Before the current budget cuts, Ualbany was receiving approximately 18% of its operating funds from the state. After the cuts, it's 15%. If more cuts come, then even less (and yet we're called a state school. Cornell gets more revenue percentage-wise from the state than we do, yet they're considered private).

--I asked about adjuncts. Provost Phillips said that the University cannot respond to this crisis with an increase in adjuncts to replace tenure track faculty. We are already ranked poorly because of our 1 to 21 tenure-line faculty to student ratio. With the budget cuts, we're likely going to increase to 1 to 23, which is bad. The Provost underscored that she does not want to see the entire university become mediocre as a result of this budget cut. She mentioned that rather than increasing the number of adjuncts, they are going to shrink the incoming Freshman and transfer populations next year (we're currently at an unprecedented 18,300 students) to try to hold down the faculty/student ratio, and to look at cutting whole programs.

There are a number of problems that the budget situation is highlighting. One of the biggest structural problems for the SUNY system is our designation as a "State Agency" under the Executive. We are the only higher education system *in the country* that is structured this way. It means that even though only a fraction of our budget comes from the state, we are under the budgetary whims of the governor, yet cannot raise tuition without legislative approval. It means that the SUNY system is especially inflexible to find new ways of increasing revenue, such as tuition, when the executive branch decides to de-prioritize higher education spending.

In short, things are grim.

If this pisses you off as much as it does me, the UUP is urging faculty, staff, students, and parents to fax their representatives. Information can be found here: Do NOT use campus resources (your work computer, the department's fax) to make your voice heard to your state legislators.

If you're not part of the union, but you're worried about what the budget cuts mean for higher education in New York State, then contact your representatives, write letters to the editor, and talk with friends and family about this crisis.

Everyone needs to share the burden in a bad economy, but it is cutting the nose to spite the face to cut higher education in a downturn. It is affordable higher education that gives people the opportunity to enter or re-enter the marketplace as skilled workers and productive citizens.


kathreftis said...

Hi Jenny,
you are right, people can make their voices heard, but it is unlikely that the governor will listen. Today, I got an email from the gov's website saying how 1000 people contacted him to ask him not to make cuts to education and health care, but he is going to anyway. These same people asked him to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers,but he is going to try very hard to avoid that! Something that is outrageous to me. How can you cut vital services, but not entertaining the idea of making the personal income tax more progressive and fair? Right now if you are a school teacher, a firefighter or a Wall street broker you pay the same income tax rate! You, me and Donald Trump pay the same!!!!!!!!
Anyway, that was my rant...
I hope everything is well with you and your family!

Jenny Stromer-Galley said...

Marina, That's frustrating news about the Governor not hearing the public's voice. He has tough decisions to make, but I don't quite understand the powerful need to "balance the budget" in a recession. Since when is that a good idea?

On another note, it's not that Donald Trump and I pay the same *amout* of taxes, we pay the same percentage. So, presumably, he writes a bigger check than I do . . . .