Stony Brook University Senate Deplores Proposed Budget Cuts

On Tuesday, February 1, 2011, Governor Cuomo released his Fiscal Year 2011- 2012 budget.

Like other state agencies, the State University system (SUNY) is in line for a 10% cut. In light of the magnitude of the state's deficit, this is not unwarranted. However, it is unwise.

Unlike many other state agencies, SUNY is an investment in our future. States make other investments too: roads, bridges, parks, etc, but higher education is an investment that returns compound interest. The state university system educates people from all walks of life, enriching their lives and, because better educated citizens earn more and pay more in taxes, enriching the state's coffers. 

State support to Stony Brook University has been cut by over 30% in the past 3 years. Adding the Governor's current proposed cuts, the amount of state support will have been cut by 74-76 million dollars over this period. The first years of these cuts were painful; now, the cuts are draconian. There is no fat left; there are no excesses left to be cut. The Governor's budget now requires us to start dismantling Stony Brook University, a university that has achieved world-wide renown for its academic programs, its research, its health care services, and now its athletic programs, in a mere 50 years.

This is a disaster not only for Stony Brook University but for Long Island as well. Stony Brook University is the economic engine that drives much of Suffolk County's economy. It is well-documented that every dollar invested by the state of New York turns into about 24 dollars of local spending. This works the other way, too - cutbacks in state support will slow the economy of Long Island. This is not the way to put the state on the road to economic recovery.  While we appreciate the Governor’s provision for some regulatory relief and an easing of the ability of campuses to engage in productive public-private partnerships, it does not make up for the draconian cuts he has proposed.

There is, however, a straightforward remedy for these cuts, a remedy recently proposed by the SUNY Student Assembly.   The Assembly has called for moderate and predictable tuition increases that will replenish campus budgets sufficiently to fend off the devastating cancellation of critical courses and elimination of entire programs guaranteed by the passage of the Governor’s proposed budget. Tuition across the SUNY system is clearly very low. Students from neighboring states enroll at Stony Brook and other SUNY colleges and universities, paying out-of-state tuitions that are less than the in-state tuition at their own state universities. The SUNY system needs the autonomy to raise tuition paid by its students modestly and on a predictable basis. Such a tuition policy will not make up for the draconian cuts being imposed, but will ease the burden, avert an irremediable disaster, and allow the University to survive until a responsible state policy can be implemented. We understand the Governor’s pledge not to raise taxes, which would complicate an already difficult economic situation for many families.  However, without an investment in SUNY, whether through direct state aid or a tuition increase, students’ time-to-degree will be lengthened and the cost of their education increased.  That is a real tax on a population that can least afford it.

Furthermore, the Governor's budget proposes deleting all state support for the SUNY hospitals. This is another incomprehensible and short-sighted decision. The Stony Brook University Hospital is the only tertiary care facility in Suffolk County, serving 1.5 million New Yorkers, and one of the premier medical facilities for Long Island. It is the health care provider of last resort for the indigent population of Long Island. To save 55 million dollars at Stony Brook, this cut may require the elimination of many irreplaceable health care services, and may require laying off hundreds of health care professionals, which will certainly add additional costs to the state for the support services that will be needed for those affected. The combined cuts to Stony Brook University and its hospital will have a disproportionate destabilizing effect on the economy of Long Island and far exceeds the budget cuts to any other SUNY campus.

Failure to invest in the future is penny-wise, but pound-foolish. It takes little time to destroy,
but decades to restore.

Approved by the University Senate, 7 February 2011

Frederick M. Walter
President, University Senate