United University Professions President Phil Smith delivered a sharp rebuttal Friday to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher's assertion that generous raises to three senior staffers were necessary, even in the middle of the worst funding crisis in SUNY history.
"The question is, is it appropriate for SUNY officials to receive large salary increases when so many others have been laid off? We say No," Smith told the state Senate Higher Education Committee, which called a hearing Friday to grill Zimpher about the raises. "SUNY has about a half-billion in reserve capital funds. We cannot understand why SUNY is not using its reserves to remedy this crisis," Smith said. The state has cut SUNY's operating aid by $562 million in the last two years.
Earlier this month, the SUNY Board of Trustees approved the raises of $30,000 each for three senior administrators, two of whom also receive monthly housing allowances in the amounts of $5,000 and $3,250. The Legislature cannot reverse the board's action.
Zimpher told the committee that she and her top assistant - SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Monica Rimai - had decided to forfeit their monthly housing allowances, and that the money freed up by that action was used to fund the raises for the other three administrators.
Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, a New York City Democrat who chairs the Higher Education Committee, told Smith that when she asked Zimpher about using the reserves to fill some of the funding cuts, Zimpher had responded that she was under the impression that the reserves were a "rainy day fund."
"I indicated that it was raining," Stavisky recounted.