Viewpoint: Budget cuts to SUNY should be reversed

The ripple effect of cuts to the State University of New York system hurts all kinds of businesses i

Since its founding in 1948, the State University of New York has produced tens of thousands of graduates whose knowledge has helped to generate years of economic growth. But after the latest round of devastating budget cuts that threaten to dismantle SUNY, that economic generator is losing its power.

First, SUNY took a $52 million budget reduction this spring in response to the state’s fiscal crisis. That was followed in the summer by an additional 7 percent cut ordered for all state agencies, which translated into a $96 million loss for SUNY. The total loss in state aid to SUNY amounts to $148 million, making it one of the state agencies to be hit the hardest. That’s why United University Professions, the union that represents SUNY’s faculty and professional staff, is calling on the governor and SUNY administrators to give the University the funding it needs to keep SUNY’s economic engine humming.

Raising revenues

New York apparently is trying to cut its way out of its mounting budget deficit, but it ought to look for ways to raise revenues instead. It is unwise to slash funding from a system that produces much more revenue than the amount the state invests. According to SUNY, for every dollar in state support it receives, its campuses return eight dollars to their respective communities. Imagine that for every dollar cut from SUNY, this economic return evaporates. Think of how the ripple effect would hurt all sorts of businesses in the Capital Region.

SUNY impacts communities You don’t have to look far to see the impact that UAlbany has on the local economy. Nearly 18,000 students and more than 1,000 faculty contribute to the economy.

According to SUNY, the economic impact of UAlbany on the Capital Region is in excess of $3 billion annually.

SUNY is also the economic lifeline for a number of other communities across the state. For example, SUNY Stony Brook produces $4.6 billion for Long Island’s economy. Upstate Medical University generates over $2 billion in economic activity for the Syracuse region. The University of Buffalo leaves a $1.5 billion economic footprint. SUNY Binghamton’s economic impact is $673 million. If SUNY campuses are forced to slash their budgets, the repercussions would be far-reaching — not just for these communities — but for the state economy as a whole.

The effects of these monumental cuts are already being felt. Some campuses are limiting future enrollments, enlarging the size of classes, reducing class offerings, and freezing searches for new full-time faculty to replace those who are retiring. Others are delaying purchases of supplies and equipment, including new computers for faculty and students, a basic necessity in today’s technologically-driven world.

More damage looming

These draconian cuts would also cause even more damage down the road.

Without additional funding, SUNY campuses will be unable to retain the faculty needed to teach advanced courses — the courses students need to graduate on time.

That means working families who send their children to a public university or college within SUNY face the very real prospect of having their sons and daughters take more than four years to graduate.

Already strapped to pay rising energy and food bills, families will be forced to pay thousands of dollars more for a degree that takes five or more years to complete, or they may end up unable to pay the increased costs, and their children may not get the chance to graduate.

SUNY’s core mission is to ensure that degree programs of quality are available to every qualified student. Achieving that mission will not be possible in light of these latest reductions coupled with the soaring demand for admission.

To ease the financial pressure, SUNY’s board of trustees wants to allow its campuses to sell or lease its property without legislative oversight. That’s a bad idea. First, this so-called “flexibility” would involve the sale or lease of property that students need, such as classroom space. Additionally, the property belongs to the state and its taxpayers, not to individual campuses.

This idea amounts to another form of deregulation, and we’ve all seen what effect the deregulation of our financial markets has had on our economy.

Brain drain

SUNY is a major engine that drives the state’s economy. It’s responsible for educating the next generation of New York’s work force with the skills needed to retain and attract employers. Eighty percent of the students who graduate from SUNY remain in New York to live and work. If those students are forced to study elsewhere, New York will suffer a brain drain that will hamper its efforts to bolster the economy.

The state’s elected leaders need to rethink these cuts to SUNY and approach state support to the university as an investment in the future economic health of the state rather than as a drain on the state’s finances.

The state ought to build its way out of this crisis instead of cutting its way out. Restoring state support to the levels in the original 2008-09 budget is a good start.

Clearly, SUNY is the solution for what ails the state’s economy.

We call upon concerned New Yorkers, parents, students and business owners to join UUP in asking the governor to reverse these cuts. You can do so easily by going to our Web site at and sending a fax to the governor.

New York needs a strong public university system now, more than ever.

Phillip H. Smith is president of United University Professions, the union representing 35,000 faculty and professional staff at SUNY’s 29 state-operated campuses.

Categories: Opinion

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