All campus divisions have been asked by Administration & Finance to reduce their budgets by 5% by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, due to an eight million dollar budget deficit the college faces. While the division of Academic Affairs has been given an extension for making their planned reductions, students and staff may face worsened effects of budget cuts already in place.
Before the pandemic, campus revenue did not match costs. A five million dollar budget deficit formed due to a decline in enrollment, as well as increased spending and tuition rates that stayed the same. As the pandemic caused enrollment to decline even further, the budget deficit gap increased to eight million dollars.
In a November 2021 letter to the editor of the Daily Freeman; Stephen Pampinella, an assistant professor of political science pointed out, “Budget cuts have been a fact of life since the 2008 financial crisis, but this round is far more dire.”
New York State has been steadily disinvesting in the SUNY system for decades. While the state funded 86% of SUNY’s total operating budget in the 1954-1955 school year, this has shrunk to 27.8% in the 2019-2020 school year. Although state funding for SUNY has decreased, the cost of attendance has risen since 1963, the first year that SUNY began charging tuition to students. As a result, SUNY campuses are forced to look to private revenue sources and make up for a decreased budget through debt financing.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was known for his cuts in state assistance to the SUNY system. Beth Wilson, President and Academic Delegate for SUNY New Paltz’s chapter of the higher education union, United University Professions, told the Oracle: “There’s been well over a decade of serious negative budget impacts from the state, that has whittled away added subsidies to the entire SUNY system and for CUNY as well. For SUNY and CUNY, that was the legacy of Andrew Cuomo.”
Staff have been bearing the brunt of budget cuts for years. This results in vacant faculty positions remaining unfilled and course cap sizes being increased, which forces teachers to teach larger classes. There is an increased workload left for fewer staff members to manage, and fewer people to do the tasks that allow a department to run smoothly, such as serving on campus committees and improving curriculum. Students are harmed as these changes make it harder for them to access the classes they need, and large class sizes make it difficult for teachers to differentiate instruction to fit the needs of their students.
Wilson also shared that another way the administration is looking to cut costs is trying to cut as many adjunct positions there are as possible.
Adjunct professors are temporary employees who teach on a contract basis, which often means precarious employment. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration has been issuing semester by semester contracts to adjunct teachers. Qualifications to be a SUNY adjunct professor are usually a minimum of a master’s degree with a Ph.D. preferred. SUNY New Paltz adjuncts currently make a base rate of approximately $3,400 for an entire semester, and work without teaching assistants.
“Those people have been getting cut a bit, although they keep saying that they want to cut more. But honestly, if you’re only saving $3,400 for an entire course, I’m not sure how that’s going to fix your budget hole,” Wilson said. “Solving the budget hole by cutting adjuncts is the equivalent of fishing through the couch cushions for quarters,” added Wilson.
Facilities’ staff, a department contrived of electricians, custodians and more who manage maintenance of the campus, has been impacted due to vacant positions remaining unfilled.
“I remember in the fall semester some people have moved office and we had a couple of these giant old steel office desks that weren’t being used anymore, sitting out in the middle of the main part of our Art History office,” Wilson said. “We put in a work order, which is the part of facilities that sends people with the right equipment to move heavy things like that. It was deep into the fall semester until those things actually left.”
“There’s lots of delay because they don’t have enough people to keep up with things. A while back they made a big deal out of asking everyone to empty their own garbage cans or something. This is what we’re coming to. It’s impacting lots of people across the campus who are having to do more work with fewer resources.”
Rachel Somerstein, an associate professor of journalism, wrote in another letter to the editor of the Daily Freeman, “I sincerely do not know what’s left to trim. To save money, we’ve already been told we cannot use campus printers. That’s how close to the bone things are already.”
The pandemic has already exhausted college faculty workers. A survey done by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that the majority of faculty are facing high levels of stress, anxiety and frustration, with more than half considering retiring or leaving higher education. Before the pandemic, women and faculty of color already mentored a higher level of students, and the burdens they face have only worsened with COVID-19. Women are submitting fewer journal articles during the pandemic as faculty with children at home that need care face limited work time. Faculty of color are more likely to be providing care for extended family members and suffering losses.
The SUNY New Paltz chapter of the United University Professions (UUP), the largest higher education union in the country, advocates for the state to increase SUNY funding. On Dec. 2 2021, they held a rally outside of the Humanities building to spread awareness about the budget cuts and the importance of the state funding SUNY. UUP encouraged rally attendees to contact Gov. Kathy Hochul and Assembly Member Kevin Cahill to voice support for the state increasing SUNY funding.
Gov. Hochul was praised by SUNY Interim Chancellor Stanley for her January 2022 Executive Budget Proposal, which featured multiple investments into the SUNY system such as eliminating the gaps in the Tuition Assistant Program, increased investments in the Educational Opportunity Program, childcare programs and other financial aid resources for students.
“The campus is eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the state budget process to see what lies in our future,” said Michele Halstead, Vice President of Administration and Finance.