January 2011 Issue
December 19, 2010

Joining forces to battle cuts

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Rallying at City Hall are, from left, PSC President Barbara Bowen and council members Charles Barron and Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo by Dave Sanders.

In past years, State University of New York campuses got the bad news first and then announced the cuts.

But a nearly $10 billion state deficit has reversed business as usual in New York so that individual SUNY colleges and universities no longer wait for the Legislature to tackle the SUNY budget — they're making painful cuts now.

The latest is SUNY Geneseo, which has announced that it will cut its majors in computer science, communicative disorders and sciences, and studio art, all within the next three years.

The college also has eliminated 45 non-instructional positions through retirement incentives, and said nine faculty positions vacated through retirement will not be filled.

Phil Smith, president of United University Professions — which represents more than 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY — decried the cuts, which come weeks after the University at Albany announced the likely elimination of four majors in languages, and theater.

"A college or university is more than the sum of its parts," Smith said. "Each department or program should be viewed as an asset, not a liability. Once a department or program is threatened, there is almost immediate harm in one way or another."

Administrators, Smith said, "should think long and hard about announcing even projected cuts, closures or deactivations, as there are very often unintended consequences."

Meanwhile, CUNY students and Professional Staff Congress members are protesting New York City Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to cut $13 million from community colleges. The midyear cut would mean fewer class sections and adjunct faculty.

"CUNY students are being punished for a budget shortfall they did nothing to create," said PSC President Barbara Bowen. "If a cut of this size is enacted, some students will not be able to take classes they need and may not be able to graduate. It isn't smart and it isn't fair to endanger New York's economic future by erecting obstacles in the path of people who want to learn."

In the past two years, SUNY has been stripped of $585 million in operating funds. CUNY was cut $84.4 milion in state aid last year alone.

NYSUT and its higher education affiliates are organizing to stop any further cuts. The statewide union continues to push solid suggestions that could restore funds to SUNY, CUNY and community colleges, including a restructuring of the state's income tax system that would have New York's wealthiest residents pay a fairer share.