Proceed with Caution

The recent announcement that the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz will begin the year with a deficit of $2.6 million has us both troubled and concerned. As many of you know, New York has been slashing spending on public education offered to its residents, which directly affects our college. The state’s 2010-11 budget doesn’t help matters, and will impact lives of each and every student here at New Paltz.

Interim President Donald Christian recently told faculty and staff about the grave situation New Paltz is in financially. He said given the size of their debt and the reality that these challenges will persist for years to come, New Paltz is going to have to take action to reduce the budget. He said this will require a fundamental downward adjustment of our economy, with “clearer focus on a smaller set of priorities.” We can only wait for administrators to announce a comprehensive plan to deal with the deficit, but until then we can’t help but remain concerned with what the future holds.

We fear that to reduce the gap in their budget, the higher ups of SUNY New Paltz will be forced to reduce programs and eliminate faculty positions. We feel these moves could ultimately decrease the quality of our education and we hope that administrators hold to their word and put our education first while making decisions about dealing with the budgetary shortfall.

If the elimination of positions becomes a part of the “fundamental downward adjustment of our economy,” the effect on our education would be noticeable. If professors were to lose their jobs or if fewer were hired,  it would put more stress on the remaining full-time professors who would be forced to teach even more classes than they are already responsible for. Also, the state is offering an early retirement incentive, which could create more complications for administrators. If there is a mass movement of faculty who decide to take this incentive at the end of the semester, administrators will need to find solutions to fill in the gaps in the spring, in spite of the budgetary shortfall.  We can only hope they remain committed to finding full time faculty members.

To deal with the budget cuts handed down by the state in the past, administrators said they have utilized reserve funds from the school’s savings account. Though the temptation for a fix may be there, they must continue to be careful about spending reserve funds; we do not want to deplete our savings and be in the same position less cautious schools are in now.

As our administrators and educators continue to put together a comprehensive plan for dealing with the deficit, it is important for students to not lose sight of the politics behind this situation. The New York State Legislature and Gov. David Paterson have delivered a huge blow to the SUNY system by cutting its funding. However, it is an election year – a time when we should make our voices heard by the policy makers who have so much control over our future. A new governor may not be able to undo the damage done, but this does not mean that students shouldn’t get educated, speak out to local legislators about how their education matters and vote. If we don’t, we can only expect the system of public of higher education in New York to continue to be undervalued.

As of now, nothing is set in stone with the future of SUNY New Paltz’s budget. We understand that in order for SUNY New Paltz to function, it needs to get money from a state government that has continually put our education on the back burner. Although certain budgetary decisions that have put us in positions that are out of our administrators’ control, we urge them to find creative ways to reduce their debt that will not decrease the quality of our education. Our future is at stake.