State Cuts Contribute to School Deficit

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Interim President Donald Christian recently announced to members of the faculty and staff that the State University of New York (SUNY) budget developments include nearly all “worst-case” elements administrators had imagined, leaving the college with a $2.6 million deficit to start off the academic year.

The shortfall indicates a gap between SUNY New Paltz’s revenue for the current year and what the college is required to pay to deliver its various services. According to Christian, administrators had developed a flat budget for this upcoming year, meaning they planned to spend the same dollar amount they had last year without incorporating expenditures for growth or the addition of programs.

However, the school did need to pay contractual salary increases to members of the faculty. With further cuts in state support under the 2010-11 budget plan passed by the New York State Legislature this summer, SUNY New Paltz is now facing an economic shortfall.

In a recent e-mail addressed to the faculty and staff, Christian said the “miss match” in what the college planned to spend when developing a budget plan in the spring and what they have to spend now results from further cuts in state support, limited tuition increases for non-resident and graduate students, a formula for allocating cuts in state support that didn’t favor the comprehensive-college sector and the mandate to increase our expenditures by nearly $2.3 million for negotiated salary increases.

Christian said there is growing indication that a mid-year budget cut from the New York State Legislature is also likely, causing the college to adjust its economy further down after a $6 million cut in 2008-09 for previous and anticipated state revenue shortfalls.

“In a way, it’s a tighter noose than what we faced two years ago,” he said.

The draft of the planning process for dealing with the budgetary shortfall will be shared next week, and administrators said reactions will be welcomed and considered in the process.

DiStefano said SUNY New Paltz administrators will look to use reserve savings funds to fill some gaps in revenue. She said decisions made in tough financial climates in the past have left the school in better standing than other institutions.

“We will have to use our savings to pay some expenses while we put our economy back in balance,” she said. “However, other schools have amassed such an imbalance that they have a huge hill to climb – but we don’t. We have already taken some positive steps to adjust our economy to be more reflective of the resources that we have.”

With the current uncertainty regarding what sorts of decisions will be made in the coming months to economize, members of the faculty have expressed their concern about the future.

On Thursday, Sept. 2, Christian invited members of the faculty and staff to participate in an open forum where they could ask questions and air concerns about the budget situation. The interim president said that concerns were raised by union members, such as United University Professions (UUP) Chapter President and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Richard Kelder.

It is UUP’s official position that faculty and professional staff members not serve on committees or engage in decision-making that may lead to the elimination of positions or programs, according to Kelder. Christian said this will not happen, as this process is carried out at the administrative level.

Kelder said faculty members fear the reduction of programs, and that he feels all programs are crucial to the core mission of the college. He hopes the school will not see programs reduced.

The faculty and staff are also anxious that positions will be eliminated as decisions to economize are being made, Kelder said. Kelder, who teaches in the linguistics program, said that teaching and professional faculty are wondering if their position is essential to the core mission of the college, which he said Christian defined as a major factor in future decision-making.

“There are very few places to look to cut right now except in personnel,” Kelder said. “Many of my colleagues are now wondering what kind of role they play in the mission of the university.”

The need to eliminate jobs has yet to be determined, Christian said.

Kelder also said there is a concern that some faculty and administrative positions may not be filled if retirements occur in an area. The state has offered an early retirement incentive to faculty members, but Kelder said SUNY New Paltz will be able to better gauge the impact of this offering on the school’s staff as the end of the semester approaches.

“We have many questions and few answers,” he said.

But according to DiStefano, adding full-time faculty is a core value on campus and the school will look to add new faculty in any way they can.

In the previous budget plan, administrators decided to institute a 90-day delay in hiring for non-faculty positions, which DiStefano said allowed the school to accrue some frictional savings. She said there has been no hiring freeze under former president Steven Poskanzer and Christian’s leadership. This is not a solution valued by administrators who have already authorized several searches for tenure-track faculty to begin the start of the 2011 academic year.

“We want to continue to increase the number of full time faculty members that are teaching on this campus,” she said.

According to Christian, the ultimate goal in the planning process for dealing with the $2.6 million deficit is safeguarding the quality of education offered by the college. To do so, he said administrators will try to avoid “across-the-board” cuts in which all budgets would be decreased by a certain percentage.

Christian said that while the planning process to economize in the face of the shortfall will be challenging, this is not a path administrators wish to take SUNY New Paltz down.

“Everybody would be kind of hobbling along on partial power with limited support,” he said. “Those are the kind of strategies that hurt quality.”

Faculty and staff members will be invited to join Christian, DiStefano and others at the next forum to discuss the process of developing strategies for dealing with the base cut and adjusting the economy downward , as scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 6. Information about the planning process and the budget will also be updated on throughout the academic year.

Faculty and UUP members welcomed the chance to be a part of the dialogue surrounding the budgetary issues, Kelder said, and the union will look to engage students in the discussion in a set of their own forums.

Kelder said SUNY and public higher education institutions across the nation represent a public good that has suffered from years of disinvestment, and that it is time to reinvest in SUNY so that students may continue to receive a quality education. He said the UUP will continue to advocate for strengthening SUNY and will seek the support of students, parents, community members and legislators to ensure that this happens.

“We’re in a state of limbo at this point, in that what’s coming remains to be seen,” Kelder said. “We have to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”