Shirley Strum Kenny
Shirley Strum Kenny, President

 

 

“SUNY and CUNY ... are essential to the well-being of this state. They are not mere social gestures; they are not safety nets; they are economic and social bedrock.”

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Delivered at University Convocation, September 24, 2008

Shirley Strum Kenny, President

Welcome to our annual Convocation. You who are sitting here today, you and our 24,000 remarkable students, are the heart of Stony Brook. From a very personal standpoint, I will say that I have never had the opportunity to work with such a talented group of teachers, researchers, and administrators anywhere. We have a mission; we know what that mission is; and I am moved every day by witnessing my colleagues giving of themselves for the dream of Stony Brook. All this despite the fact that Stony Brook has been poorly funded, at least in my time—I have heard stories of those heady early days when there was plenty of money and lots of empty land with which to pursue the dream. 

Those days are gone. Now we are facing major cuts, the highest in our recent history. The difficulty of such cuts is more understandable when you realize that of our total All-Funds budget of  $1.8 billion, only $300 million is what we call State Purpose money. That includes approximately $200 million of tax levy money and $100 million of tuition. Of that $300 million, 82 percent is spent on personnel and 13 percent on utilities, leaving only 5 percent for everything else. Therefore it is imperative for us to fight for increased State Purpose funding in the future. If our present dire situation is a temporary—one-year—problem, we can handle it, though unquestionably with discomfort, by redirecting some of our funding intended for equipment, services, etc. We can delay filling open positions, or perhaps not fill them at all. We can, in effect, get by for a short time if we are then enabled to move ahead to meet those delayed needs. 

But if, as seems likely, the crisis extends over two or three years or more, untempered by infusions of funding to meet our needs, we have a very different situation. We desperately need to make the case that SUNY and CUNY are essential to the well-being of this state. They are not mere social gestures; they are not safety nets; they are economic and social bedrock. They are our hope for the future, our guarantee against losing our primacy as a state.

When Governor Nelson Rockefeller determined to establish a State University of New York in the 1940s, long after other states had created state universities, he was aware of its importance. The original system linked many private colleges together, and it was not shortchanged in State support. Stony Brook opened in September 1957 as a brand new Long Island teachers college for science and math.  When Sputnik was launched that October, Stony Brook’s mission metamorphosed to that of a great research university. Originally funded appropriately for such a Herculean task—a new research university built from scratch—Stony Brook and indeed the entire University later hit on hard times. Remarkably, in just 50 years, we have risen to international eminence—this year we are ranked 127 of 12,000 universities worldwide in the London Times Higher Education Supplement.

I can take up the story best from 1994, when I first came here. Ironically enough, when I arrived, the campus had hit a financial crisis reminiscent of today. I discovered in our All-Funds budget both a debt and a growing fiscal deficit—for several years, Stony Brook had overspent its budget and each year increased the debt. We were therefore faced with the unpleasant task of recouping approximately $10 million and cutting annual expenditures significantly. In those days our total State Purpose funding—tax levy and tuition—was $170 million instead of today’s $300 million, 57 percent of today’s budget. 

We did it within three years through very prudent belt-tightening. After that, Stony Brook was able to grow remarkably stronger and bigger although obviously our budgets have not burgeoned. The State has gotten incredible value at Stony Brook. 

Since 1994, State Purpose funding—tax levy and tuition—has increased by only 76 percent, but the All-Funds operating budget, including research dollars, student room and board, the Hospital budget, etc., has almost tripled from $650 million to $1.8 billion. Research expenditures alone are now almost as high as the tax levy support for the University—$170 million as compared to $200 million. There has only been one tuition increase in 13 years, and that one was five years ago. But our student population has increased from 17,600 to 24,000, or 36 percent, since 1994. Our faculty and staff during the same period increased from 11,200 to 13,900, an increase of only 24 percent. Clearly we need funding appropriate to our research mission—more money per student, not less.