April 24, 2008

Union fights proposal to further cut SUNY funds

Source: NYSUT News Wire

NYSUT and its higher education leaders are reacting sharply to a proposal by the state Division of the Budget that may result in higher class sizes, fewer full-time faculty, the erosion of campus services and a loss of faculty positions around the State University of New York system.

As a way of addressing New York’s budget shortfall, the DOB’s proposal would force SUNY to cut an additional $109.4 million in revenue to a general statewide fund. The cuts to SUNY would come on top of a $38.8 million funding cut SUNY is already confronting in the recently passed 2008-09 state budget.

United University Professions, the NYSUT affiliate that represents 34,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY, is gearing up to fight the plan. UUP President Phillip Smith said it is already clear that revenue loss due to the set-aside on some campuses will trigger a chain reaction that will force massive layoffs or shutdowns even in departments that are not directly losing revenue.

“I’m getting worried calls from members, chapter presidents and even campus presidents,” Smith said. “This plan, if fully enacted, will lead to the dismantling of SUNY.”

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said, “This does nothing for the state’s balance sheet. It cuts services that families and students have already paid for at SUNY. If this plan goes through, it will set public education in New York state back at least 10 years,” he said. “As we head into an economic downturn that many are already calling a recession, it’s unthinkable that the state could turn its back on the very places that keep jobs and economic growth anchored in New York - our public colleges and universities. This is an unacceptable trade-off, and NYSUT will be doing everything possible to stop this proposal before it starts.”

NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin pointed out that the mandatory surrender of revenue would be a startling reversal by the state, given that a state higher education panel just proposed a series of recommendations for SUNY that would have strengthened its academics, research capabilities and national reputation.

“In December, the New York State Commission on Higher Education recommended that SUNY and CUNY hire an additional 2,000 faculty,” Lubin said. “Now, SUNY may have to lay off faculty in order to meet the state’s unreasonable demand. It’s difficult to fathom how we got from there to here in just four months.”

Paterson, speaking to the NYSUT Representative Assembly in early April, noted that with dire economic forecasts, the state had maintained a strong funding increase to public schools in the 2008-09. In the next round of budget negotiations next winter, Paterson said, “We have to extend the same priority to higher ed."

Smith said the state’s demand amounts to an impounding of funds that by rights should be spent on desperately needed services for students and patients.

“This is not the state’s money,” Smith said. “It’s tuition and dormitory fees paid by our students. It’s hospital revenues paid by our patients and their private insurance.”

As word of the state’s plan circulated through SUNY this week, UUP campus presidents and department chairs outlined the grim prospects. The SUNY health science centers anticipate layoffs if the revenue set-aside is imposed. Entire departments on some campuses could fold.

“Why is the Division of the Budget proposing this, and why is SUNY the primary target?” Smith asked. “It won’t balance his budget, and it won’t save taxpayers a dime.”