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Updates

Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 2/12/10

It’s a pleasure (despite the snow) to have the campus back in full swing and a new semester solidly under way. I wish I had candy hearts and tidings of fiscal affection from the politicians, union and System leaders in Albany to share for Valentine’s Day. But—like many long-term relationships, I guess!—the news on funding and legislation that affects us all is “complicated and unresolved!”

Budget: I spent all Monday in Albany lobbying for SUNY and also have been meeting with our local representatives in quiet and focused sessions. Right now, we’re in the part of the annual budget cycle where the Executive Branch proposal is questioned (and this year, criticized) by the Legislature and by recipients of state funds seeking to protect the status quo. The mooing of self-anointed sacred cows is very loud!

When you cut through all the obfuscatory rhetoric, the proposed 2010-11 Executive Budget contains a $110 million cut to SUNY. Our statewide and local budget picture this year turns on one simple matter—whether New York will be paying salary increases to state employees even in this brutal economic climate. While the Governor’s proposed budget “provides funds” for negotiated salary increases, it then rather nakedly turns right around and takes that same amount of money away in the form of a separate budget cut. This cut would amount to $80 million across SUNY. Less significantly, the Governor also proposes to save another $30 million across SUNY by some kind of unspecified “giveback” (e.g., pay lag) from the unions. While this gambit brings us to the $110 total, the critical issue is the $80 million unfunded salary increases, not the $30 million add-on. While the precise impact of this proposed cut to New Paltz is yet to be determined, based on past SUNY allocation formulae, we anticipate it could be as much as $2.35 million.

Right now it’s too early in the budget cycle to know how things will play out. The message I’m sharing with our legislators is that this unfunded mandate must be eliminated. If delivering salary increases is a priority for the Governor and the Legislature, I expect them to come up with the funds for it.

Possible New Legislation: As you know, earlier this month, the Governor proposed the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which was enthusiastically endorsed by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, CUNY Chancellor Matt Goldstein, and public college presidents (including me) across the state. This legislation would be beneficial for New York, SUNY, New Paltz and students and their families.

The Act will create jobs, help revitalize New York’s economy and absolutely strengthen public higher education in this state. Indeed, SUNY estimates that over the next 10 years, the Act will help create 10,000 new jobs (especially more full-time faculty) and lead to investments of over $8.5 billion in capital construction.

Greater financial independence and streamlined operations will position SUNY and CUNY to develop strong public-private partnerships, find new sources of revenue and give financial stability through multi-year budget plans.

Under the Act, all tuition, fees and other self-generated revenues would remain at campuses. This would repeal last year’s noxious sweep of tuition dollars (in effect, a tax just on SUNY students), eliminating the Legislature and Governor’s ability to take away tuition and use it for general purpose funds. While the Act would allow SUNY to set its tuition, it would limit any increases to a modest and predictable level that would not exceed the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI).

Predictably, we’ll hear from voices that fear change—and voices that want to politicize higher education—that this is bad legislation. You’ll be told that this Act would privatize or improperly deregulate SUNY. But I believe it’s time to reject this kind of conservative thinking. We’ve seen for decades how debilitating it is to have limited control over our own financial and operational destiny. The notion of SUNY as a political football is what has to end.

In the last three years alone, we have been subjected to five budget cuts. Now we face a sixth cut. Even without the latest proposed cut, our state taxpayer support has dropped 22 percent in those three years.

Use of Part-Time Faculty: Let me shift now to some unequivocally good news. Consistent with our strategic plan, the percentage of courses taught by part-time faculty continues to drop, notwithstanding our budget constraints. Only 30.1% of courses were taught by adjunct faculty in fall 2009, down from 30.5% the year before. A decade ago, the figure was close to 50%. Last year at this time, I expressed our hope that we could maintain this downward trend, even as budget cuts loomed. We know that many SUNY peers and other colleges across the nation have resorted to using more part-timers to save money or avoid making hard decisions. Indeed, New Paltz was guilty of doing the same thing in the past. So, it is terrific that we were able to drive these numbers down further. This reinforces the value and wisdom of our budget planning. My thanks to the Provosts (past and present), Deans and Chairs who helped make this possible by carefully managing course sizes and offerings. I hope that we can continue to keep these figures at this healthy and historically low level.

Branding: The College’s Brand Marketing Task Force will be wrapping up its work this spring and will share its findings and recommendations at next month’s faculty meeting. You may recall that several years ago I charged this group, led by Vice President Eaton, to (1) research public perceptions of New Paltz among faculty, staff, current students, alumni, prospective students and their parents and (2) develop strategies and tools to promote the College and to share New Paltz's story even more effectively.

As you'll hear, one piece of this project has been identifying and articulating themes that crystallize what makes a New Paltz education distinctive and excellent, such as close connections between faculty and students. Another piece has been crafting a new look for our campus recruitment materials, Web site, stationery and business cards. If you saw last Friday's basketball games, you saw our new Athletic logo and Hawk mascot.

In addition to Task Force members, hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors have been reviewing materials throughout this process. We've made a special point of drawing on our in-house expertise in graphic design, marketing and communication. So I look forward to seeing the results. These refined messages and new looks can help unify the campus and ensure that we make the best possible use of resources devoted to marketing and outreach.

Steven Poskanzer