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Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 05/08/08

Since we last met only a few weeks ago and our agenda for today is very full, I’m only going to touch on two topics today.

First, I want to share some good hiring news. We have successfully concluded our search for a new dean for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Dr. James Schiffer, a scholar of Shakespeare and currently chair of the Department of English at Northern Michigan University, will be joining us this summer. As Jerry Benjamin steps down from the deanship (I can only imagine how liberating it must feel for him to be attending his last faculty meeting as dean!), we owe him our deep gratitude for exceptional academic leadership during this past dozen years.

The last finalist for Vice President for Finance and Administration was here yesterday, and I hope the search committee will complete its work next week. I am confident this search will end this spring with a strong hire. Also on the hiring front, Provost Lavallee informs me that 29 of 33 academic faculty searches have drawn to a successful close, with gifted colleagues slated to join us this fall. Four searches are outstanding or have failed. Barring further attrition, this should bring our full-time faculty ranks up to over 340 for the first time in many years.

Second and last, however, recent events demand that I concentrate today on another potential budget cut for SUNY and our campus. It is too early for alarm, but I want to share the latest news and assure you that—together with the union, faculty governance leaders, System and other campuses—we’re trying to protect SUNY.

Last month, I reported a $38.7 million budget cut to SUNY for FY09. I am sorry to say that just three weeks after the budget was passed, the Division of Budget (DOB) decided to reduce further and dramatically spending on SUNY, calling for an additional $109 million in cuts from 29 state-operated SUNY campuses (all except the community colleges, and—to the best of my knowledge—Cornell and Alfred Ceramics).  

Initial accounts of this additional cut described a spending cap on state funds—including monies that SUNY collects for tuition, student housing and medical care. Perhaps realizing that this approach was unworkable (and likely subject to legal challenge), DOB has now revamped its demand. As the attached memo from the Chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees relates, DOB is now simply requiring that SUNY reduce spending by another $109 million. Since our campus represents about 3% of SUNY’s enrollment, in a worst-case scenario we might face an operating budget cut on the order of $3 million—this on top of our initial $500,000-$600,000 projected cut. Of course we hope it doesn’t come to this—and it hasn’t yet.

In bad fiscal times, we all know that SUNY must tighten its belt. Although we have already acceded to one substantial cut, financial analysts all forecast rough storms for New York that are likely to impact this and future years’ budgets. However, I cannot help but observe that something would be fundamentally wrong if funding for 29 SUNY campuses is sliced a second time to the tune of $109 million while the City University may be nicked just $2 million, SUNY’s community colleges are held harmless, and state subsidies for New York’s private colleges and universities are not reduced by even a dime.  Since all levels of education are connected and we frequently speak about the need for closer K-16 links, I would also find it ironic if public higher education is cut while funding for public elementary and secondary education increases by hundreds of millions of dollars.

You have already received a communication from UUP about this possible cut. This is a very fluid situation, with positions and arguments evolving rapidly. As you would expect, all the affected campus presidents are treating this situation seriously. I have attached a letter from the presidents to SUNY’s Interim Chancellor asserting that SUNY Central and the Board of Trustees should be aggressive in defending the University against additional and unfair cuts. The presidents have asked to meet directly with the SUNY Board to present our thoughts and strategies. The attached memo from SUNY Board Chair Carl Hayden recounts the Board’s involvement to date and its current position.

Negotiations are continuing between the Governor’s Office, DOB and SUNY. I have been talking regularly with UUP President Glenn McNitt and Faculty Presiding Officer Simin Mozayeni about how to make the strongest case for New Paltz. While I am not ruling out the possibility that UUP, faculty governance and I might ask you to contact political leaders to register your opposition to an additional SUNY-specific budget cut, we’re not at that point. Together with the union, we’ll keep you apprised as this complicated matter unfolds.

I recognize that this is hardly the most reassuring news on which to end the academic year. But just as I do not want to sugarcoat the situation, nor do I want to panic anyone unnecessarily. I suspect that there are many twists and turns yet to come over the state budget. For now, perhaps the best counsel I can offer and the most therapeutic course of action is to keep in mind why we all choose to work at the State University—as exemplified by the upcoming Commencement ceremonies. I look forward to seeing you there.

» Carl Hayden: State University Budget - Update *

» Chancellor Budget Letter *

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