September 09, 2008
State colleges press for guidance on cuts
Regional SUNY presidents call for plan from state to deal with $270 million in cuts
SYRACUSE — Seven state colleges in Central New York are asking for a comprehensive plan from state legislators for how to handle $270 million in budget cuts without losing the ability to provide a quality education.
Administrators from the seven schools, including SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum and John Conners, Tompkins Cortland Community College’s provost, said Monday that the cuts were disproportionate to other state divisions’ cuts.
They argued that it will take their campuses years to recover, as the cuts come on top of rising energy costs, Medicaid cuts and families struggling to pay bills.
The colleges are asking the state for a discussion about how to ease the pain, which could include tuition increases and easing state regulations.
They say New York is losing ground to other state university systems in other states.
“This is precisely the time when you need us most,” Dr. David Smith, president of SUNY Upstate Medical University, said at a news conference at Upstate’s Campus Activities Center. “People are out of work, going back to school, looking for new training.” He said the cuts were disproportionately placed on SUNY and were part of an “insidious trend from Albany and Washington.”
SUNY Morrisville President Raymond Cross put it even more directly: “Get on our backs and let us carry you out of this recession. We are the R&D (research and development) people for this region. Upstate New York needs us badly, more than ever. Give us the opportunity.”
SUNY campus budgets were slashed in January and May, then slashed again by Gov. David Paterson in August. The total cuts came to $270 million or about 10 percent on average, although the exact reduction for each campus is not known yet.
The other presidents in attendance Monday were Deborah Stanley of SUNY Oswego, Debbie Sydow of Onondaga Community College, and Cornelius Murphy of SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, commonly known as ESF.
The administrators met with State Sen. David Valesky, (D-Oneida), and Assembly members William Magnarelli, (R-Syracuse), Joan Christenson, (R-Syracuse), and Will Barclay, (R-Pulaski), before the news conference. Smith said the legislators “are friends — they understand the stress we’re under and will advocate for us.”
Bitterbaum said the colleges want the state to relax regulations that hold the colleges back from making purchases and handling financial problems as quickly as private colleges do. They want small yearly tuition increases. The last tuition increase came in 2003.
Bitterbaum said budget cuts would require class size to grow, meaning less individual instruction for students, and that the colleges would have to hire more part-time faculty, who usually have less time for students.
Asked for an example of how regulations hurt the colleges, Smith said Upstate Medical University needed a new machine that bombards cancer tumors with radiation and had to wait one year for the purchase to clear bureaucracy in Albany. Purchase requests have to be vetted by SUNY, the state comptroller and attorney general, among others. A private college could buy such a machine in a few weeks.
Murphy said the administrators worry that more budget cuts are coming.
To show what the colleges mean to Central New York, Smith said they represent 40,000 students, 12,000 employees and $500 million in services purchased from their counties. He said they represent $2.1 billion in economic development.
The administrators said that while the colleges understand that everyone must slash budgets if the state is to emerge from what Paterson says is a $6 billion deficit, SUNY represents the future.
“The margin of excellence we’ve been striving for, for so long, will now erode,” Stanley said. “We do the research, you invest in us. Our nation is ‘disinvesting’ in education.”
Conners said TC3 wants to preserve its status as a national leader in online education. He said the college’s online courses and degrees account for 10 percent of its enrollment.
“Some students tell us they can complete their degrees only online,” Conners said. “But there’s a larger threat. Our enrollment is strong and could go up more as we build new residence halls. But with budget cuts, you lose your capacity to provide service to students. You have longer lines, less attention to the student. We want to halt the bleeding.
“Then there’s the matter of our host counties. They will have a more difficult time supporting us, as they slash their own budgets.”
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