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The Office of the President

Updates 12/12/2008

» 2009 Budget Update

Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 12/12/08

It will come as no surprise that I am starting off this month’s report with the latest update on the …
State Budget: While we’re waiting for the Governor to issue his proposed FY10 spending plan on December 16, I think we’ve already gotten a preview of what’s coming in the deficit reduction proposal he floated last month, namely:

  • a fourth cut to SUNY that would be filled with a tuition increase of $620.
  • no state funding for salary increases for collective bargaining units next year—which amounts to another cut to campuses.

In this very troubling scenario, New Paltz would face a $5.4 million base budget cut next year (this is a more finely grained number than I’ve reported before and is based on the latest information we have).
If that’s our situation, what are we going to do? Of course, we’ll lobby political leaders to stave off a fourth cut, to let SUNY keep all new tuition dollars, and not to saddle us with an unfunded mandate on salary increases. Of course, we’ll push hard within SUNY for an equitable distribution of cuts, stressing that the comprehensive colleges have borne a disproportionate share of prior reductions. But closer to home, we’ll plan wisely about how to manage even the largest possible cuts in a way that protects academic quality and keeps faith with our students’ expectations and our core purposes. What we’re not going to do is panic, or slam on the financial brakes in ways that do lasting damage.

The Vice Presidents, Deans and I believe strongly that our best thinking will emerge from a broadly consultative process. We’ve continued to meet with faculty governance and union leadership about how to structure that process, and we’ve also sought counsel from emeriti faculty and retired administrators who lived through prior budget crises. As an initial step, I’ve asked each Vice President to meet with staff to identify cost-saving and revenue-generating ideas. Jackie DiStefano will also meet with the Budget, Goals and Plans Committee to review the magnitude and possible impact of the prospective cuts.

As we proceed with this very deliberative and inclusive planning, we must also be mindful of “decision points” that periodically occur in the operation of the college. We don’t want to miss deadlines or opportunities that might limit our options in filling the budget gap so we must make forward-looking calls on regular matters such as searches for faculty, filling administrative vacancies, renewing temporary or term appointments for employees, approving sabbaticals, renewing contracts for the purchase of goods and services, and finalizing the course schedule for next semester.

Most significant in terms of cost and quality enhancement are faculty searches. We have not chosen to impose a hard hiring freeze. Instead, as many of you know, the Provost and the Deans have recommended continuing 15 faculty searches for fall 2009 and postponing 14 other searches.  They’ve rightly recognized it would undermine our efforts to build quality if we cancelled searches carried over from last year because of weak pools or searches resulting from a department’s decision not to reappoint. Some of our searches to replace departed colleagues are also essential to the health and success of academic programs. I should note that such rigorous review of searches is paralleled on the administrative side; each vacant slot is being carefully examined before a replacement is authorized. In several instances we’ve already decided not to fill empty positions.

I’ve mentioned that SUNY presidents are busy lobbying in Albany. But right now the State University’s influence can best be enhanced by the swift appointment of a strong and respected Chancellor. Interim Chancellor Clark announced that he is stepping down at the end of December, which creates the risk of a vacuum at a critical moment. My SUNY Central sources tell me, however, that the Chancellor’s search has recently become much more active.

Speaking of searches, our quest for a new Provost is on track. The search committee is culling a pool of 87(!) resumes to find eight to ten likely prospects to interview in January. We shall get this search right, no matter how long it takes. We’re also seeing excellent progress in our search for a new Dean of Fine and Performing Arts. We should have a list of finalists by semester’s end.
Let me close my discussion of finances and fiscal leadership by reiterating that there are always bold opportunities to be seized when funding is cut. New Paltz can come through this downturn as a stronger institution, embracing positive changes.

Construction: Work proceeds apace on several key projects that will enhance our campus:

  • Demolition has begun on the upper floors of Old Main. Asbestos abatement will continue throughout the winter.
  • Construction began last week on the addition to the Student Union. Contractors have closed off staging areas and asbestos abatement will begin shortly.
  • A faculty/staff committee is planning for the new science building, touring facilities at other universities to gather ideas. The building’s final design must reflect and promote our views of what constitutes great teaching and discovery.

Research Grants: In the first five months of this fiscal year, we’ve seen a 22% increase in expenditures (grant funds spent by New Paltz project directors) over the same period last year (SUNY comprehensive colleges averaged a 6% increase.)  We’ve also seen a 41% increase over the same period last year in new grant funding (while SUNY colleges averaged a 6% decrease). Such outside funding will be a critical source of investments in quality as traditional revenue streams shrink.

Distinguished Speaker Series: Our inaugural speaker was a smash hit. Humor columnist Dave Barry packed the Athletic and Wellness Center, generating wonderful media coverage and great excitement in the community and on campus.  We sold almost 900 tickets for his talk, which was largely funded by a lead gift and corporate sponsors.  If you missed this one, be sure to catch Jonathan Alter next spring!

Meeting Student Needs: I want to commend the library staff for expanding their hours of operation. In response to student requests, starting next semester the STL will open at 8:00 a.m. (instead of 8:30 a.m.), Monday through Friday. This is a great example of our professional faculty helping students succeed.
Finally, as we come to the end of another busy academic semester, I hope all of you can come to the holiday party at my home this Saturday.  We need to join together periodically to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that have made New Paltz strong—and that will make us even smarter and stronger in the future.

- Steve Poskanzer