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SUNY colleges forced to confront impact of state budget cuts

It’s crisis-management time at local SUNY campuses–and that may be an understatement.
As looming budget cuts shake these institutions to the core, faculty and administration–like their counterparts in business– also confront the long-range impact of their shrinking financial resources.
SUNY College at Brockport will re-examine its mission in light of Gov. George Pataki’s proposed 31 percent budget cut, said President John Van de Wetering. Pataki has proposed axing $290 million of systemwide funding for the upcoming fiscal year.
“We had no warning at all that there would be a reduction of such magnitude,” Van de Wetering said. “We’re old hands at making cuts of a modest nature. But a cut of this size constitutes a major policy change on the part of New York State.”
In fact, a strategic plan hammered out at SUNY Brockport over the past 2/3> years did not project dramatic funding cuts, he said. The plan sets priorities for the college’s future, outlining programs that are targeted for growth or that serve a special function within the university system.
For instance, the plan calls for continuing development of SUNY Brockport’s international thrust through the International Institute, formed three years ago, and other efforts.
Proposed budget cuts turn SUNY Brockport’s strategic plan “topsy-turvy,” said Edward VanDuzer, SUNY Brockport chapter president of United University Professions, a statewide union rep- resenting faculty and staff.
However, Van de Wetering noted, the plan still can guide tough decisions that must be made in addressing budget constraints.
Two key elements of SUNY Brockport’s mission–access and quality–will be hurt by the draconian cuts, university officials say.
Inevitable hikes will put tuition out of reach for many of SUNY Brockport’s 9,100 students, VanDuzer said. In addition to SUNY budget cuts, Pataki’s hit list includes the Educational Opportunities Program, a state college-aid program for financially disadvantaged students.
Quality also stands to suffer as faculty positions are slashed, ratcheting up the already high student/faculty ratio, which now stands at roughly 22 to 1, VanDuzer said. And if quality is defined as offering a wide variety of outstanding programs, that will be knocked down, too.
SUNY College at Geneseo faces similar concerns.
The key mission of SUNY Geneseo is to be the premier public undergraduate college in New York, President Carol Harter said.
With budget cuts of the magnitude proposed by Pataki, “you’re either in a quality-reduction or size-reduction mode,” she said. “Geneseo will always choose to preserve quality,” even if it means access suffers.
Harter said the administration is examining a range of scenarios in terms of job losses, but added that discussing specific changes now would only cause profound morale problems. She noted that although the SUNY Geneseo budget has dropped 12 percent during her tenure, the college has managed the declining resources without instituting layoffs.
Individual departments also are taking a hard look at how to adapt to fewer resources. SUNY Geneseo’s history department, for example, is examining ways to tighten its belt, said William Gohlman, associate professor of history and president of the college’s UUP chapter. No detailed plan of action has been devised, however.
Both SUNY campuses are looking at possible overlap between the two colleges that might be eliminated. But much program commonality was removed in previous budget cuts, officials say.
The SUNY system endured a similar– though less severe–retrenchment in 1982. At that time, SUNY Brockport cut its speech pathology and audiology department in deference to the stronger program in place at SUNY Geneseo. Duplication in several other programs was removed as well, Van de Wetering said.
Additional consolidation is difficult, officials say, because each campus serves a different student base. SUNY Brockport has the system’s largest graduate student enrollment, for example, and roughly 40 percent of all students are enrolled on a part-time basis. Nearly all of SUNY Geneseo’s 5,700 students are full-time undergraduates.
The faculty is facing budget uncertainties with a mix of resignation, resistance and denial, SUNY Geneseo’s Gohlman said. Similar sentiments are voiced at SUNY Brockport, though not all faculty feel the impending changes will impact their school’s quality of education.
“All of us could be leaned down,” said Roger Weir, president of SUNY Brockport’s faculty senate and director of academic and health services.
“And while we’d miss our colleagues terribly, I don’t see that it needs to detract from the quality of what’s left. We can be strong, but smaller.”


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