College Grapples with $3 Million Deficit

Since the $3 million dollar deficit has come to the attention of students and staff, the SUNY New Paltz 2017-2018 Budget Forum has been much anticipated. 

The forum, which took place on Wednesday, May 3, was greatly attended by concerned faculty and interested students. The main question was whether or not there will be faculty cuts. Answered by the overhead projected slideshow, “there is no plan now to change faculty to load for next year.” At this time, there will be no programs eliminated either. 

Vice President of Finance and Administration Michele Halestead, Provost Dr. Lorin Basden Arnold, Vice President of Enrollment Management L. David Eaton and College President Donald Christian led the budget discussion and presentation. 

The subtext of the forum, “Managing Our Economy in Uncertain Times,” is a representation of what the College has been and will be grappling with in the next several years, according to College President Donald Christian.

To begin rectifying this issue, Halstead presented targeted expenditures reductions and new revenue outlets for the next academic year.

Although the deficit now stands at $3 million, it is projected to rise to $4 million in the 2017-2018 academic year. On an ongoing basis, the college will have $1.1 million in personnel savings, $672,000 saved from Other Than Personnel Savings (OTPS) reductions and $518,000 in new revenue. 

Personnel savings include targeted position attritions, sabbatical savings, savings from retirements and resignations, adjustments of course offerings, reduction of summer temporary staff and savings from 90-day hold on non-urgent staff searches. OTPS savings refers to reductions in expenditures such as utility expenses. 

According to the administration, despite the deficit, our enrollment remains strong, as does the quality and work ethic of students accepted — standards have not dropped. As of now, 1100 freshman and 600 transfer students are slated to attend this fall. 

“We became aware of vulnerabilities and soft spots that were hidden to us during years of rational tuition increase [2012-2016],” Christian said. “Those were times where we were perhaps not sufficiently attentive to the vulnerabilities we have.”

Christian is referring to the effect of the 2016-2017 tuition freeze implemented by Gov. Andrew Cuomo; no increase in tuition and no increase in state support “reflects the low tide” the college is experiencing. 

During years of a steady tuition increase of $200 per academic year, the college hired over 40 new professors, while also increasing adjunct expenditures. This was a positive in regards to departments such as the Black Studies Department, which lost many professors in a short period of time due to resignations and retirements. Since last year, all of those vacated positions have been replaced. 

However, Christian said the College had “over invested” faculty positions due to the flexibility allowed by the rational tuition increases, and that the need to adjust that downward is a “prudent planning practice” that must be implemented. 

This is an “arguable over-investment in faculty lines” where the College has gone beyond what our economy can support. 

“Part time teachers remain important, but notice to adjuncts was required by agreement, and provides needed flexibility in personnel costs,” as stated during the presentation. 

“No one has lost a job, yes offices have lost positions, but no one has lost a job,” Halstead said.

Murmurs of adjunct faculty termination have been circulating around campus since information of the budget deficit has become public. Petitions on social media have been circulated to stop the “firing of adjunct professors,” and on May 1, the International Socialist Organization and the New Paltz Action Network held a walkout to “protest Donald Trump’s Anti-Immigrant policies and the firing of adjunct professors at SUNY New Paltz.”

“There is no plan to eliminate all adjunct positions, nor has such a plan ever been discussed,” Christian said in  a meeting with The Oracle in April. 

Christian explained that if an adjunct professor does not return for a subsequent semester, it is because they have received a “notice of non-renewal,” not a notice of termination. The adjunct professor will most likely be asked to return in future semesters when their department reaches a status where they are in need of more faculty; this practice complies with the Collective Barging Agreement and Union contracts. 

Christian said an adjunct will receive a notice of non-renewal if they are not assigned a class to teach or an academic roll — a lack of enrollment in their given department is a factor in this.

In 2012-2016, more professors were available to teach than the amount of credit hours enrolled for those semester. As a result, during a time of severe budget deficit, programs with less students and a lower need for extra classes and professors will most likely experience adjuncts receiving notices of non-renewal. 

If adjuncts are not assigned a class or academic roll following full course registration for Fall 2017, the administration will evaluate the needed adjunct faculty in each program. 

The College will also be investing in addressing the “non-traditional” students’ needs. These students are online or part-time, and make up 50 to 70 percent of the College’s population. Catering more attentively to these needs include a revamp of the college’s online courses and advising. 

As the forum opened up to the audience for questions, Douglas Koop, adjunct professor of engineering and physics and astronomy shared that he is currently teaching four courses and is paid $10,000 annually to do this. 

“Why do I do it? I like being here. I like the students and working with faculty,” Koope said. “But the real enabling reasons is that I have other sources of income, such as Social Security and pensions, which a lot of my younger adjunct colleagues do not have at all. I’m perplexed how you can even consider the idea of saving money by not renewing someone in my position who teaches all the students for many years.”

Arnold responded to his comment by reiterating the importance of contextualizing that when someone receives an issue on non-renewal, they will continue teaching for the College should they want to later on.  

“Our challenge is in making the course-needs fit the instructional group in our contract that the state and the union have. Once someone has their contracts to teach a course, unless we cancel the course completely, we cannot replace them in that course with someone else,” Arnold said. “Unfortunately that means if we have a full-time faculty member teaching courses and those courses don’t get students in them — which now and then does happen — then we end up with someone who doesn’t have classes to teach and we don’t have a class to put them in.”

Arnold said the departments and the deans have conducted “some reviews” on course needs, and “it is clear they still have work to do” to see what courses will run in the fall semester. 

The forum concluded with an array of questions and statements of concern by faculty, both full-time and adjunct. 

“Budgeting is extremely complex,” Christian said. “Even those of us who work with it are confused from time to time, the challenge is getting all the pieces to fit together.”