By Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.
President, Stony Brook University
Faced with a 20% reduction, amounting to nearly $55 million, in New York State financial support over the past two years, I announced last week that Stony Brook University has been forced to make strategic cuts and streamline operations at its various locations. Notably, we are suspending the residential program and new undergraduate admissions at Stony Brook Southampton.
I have stated publicly on many occasions, however, that the university remains steadfast in its commitment to research and teaching at the site. The Marine Station of the pioneering School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (SoMAS) will continue to serve as a critical hub for landmark discoveries and breakthroughs in such areas as the atmospheric sciences, as well all the major disciplines of oceanography – biological, chemical, geological and physical. Similarly, the world-acclaimed Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree program and the renowned Southampton Writers Workshop will, as always, attract Pulitzer Prize and other award-winning novelists, journalists, poets, and champions of the written word to share their insights and experiences with students and the community at large.
Moreover, we are not abandoning our commitment to the nearly 500 affected Southampton students. We have enacted a number of immediate measures to ensure that they experience minimal impact as they work towards their degrees and on-time graduation. For example, we are expanding summer academic programs at the main campus and enhancing our student advisement services to assist students at Southampton so that they can continue their studies on the main campus without losing credits. Already, nearly 200 Southampton students have been so registered for the fall semester.
Academic programs that will no longer be offered at Southampton will be available at the main campus, including those environmental studies offerings that earned such wide distinction. SoMAS students will continue to take some of their fieldwork and laboratory classes at Southampton, with the remainder of their coursework at the main campus. Bus service between Southampton and Stony Brook will continue in order to accommodate them. Prospective students who have been offered positions at Southampton will also be able to matriculate at the main campus or receive a full refund of their application fee should they choose to go elsewhere. Most of the residential students have met already with our staff representatives and are being given priority in a dorm on the main campus, where they will be clustered to preserve the sense of community they built at Southampton.
I can assure you that all these steps, while economically necessary, were never ones we wanted to make. Our hands were tied by the massive cuts in state funding and the restrictions we face in controlling our own finances. Indeed, unlike public higher institutions in other states, including the University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, Penn State and Rutgers, we are not able to set our own tuition rate. And long periods have gone by without the legislature authorizing any incremental rise in tuition. When tuition was finally raised for the first time in spring 2009, after six years of inactivity, it was a double digit increase followed by another large hike in the fall of last year. But, rather than us keeping the increased funds to enhance the educational experience for our students, the state took almost all of the money for itself, to help alleviate its own budget problems.
Unfortunately, the fundamental cuts in our state allocation, coupled with a higher cost structure and a business model that relied heavily on state support made it impossible for us to continue the residential component of the Southampton location. It is, however, only one part of the response to the resulting fiscal crisis. We have already reduced our budget by some $20 million to help offset the severe loss in state funding. The remaining budget cuts total about $34 million, the deficit our university is facing in the coming fiscal year. The main campus will absorb $27 million, through a variety of measures, including reductions in administrative support and academic programs. In addition, we are also closing one location in Manhattan.
Nevertheless, we are in fact moving forward, looking towards ways to ensure that Stony Brook University remains strong for the 25,000 students we serve. Ultimately, we need the state and the public to consider education from a K-16 perspective and support sustained investment in higher education accordingly. We need Albany to recognize the key role research universities like Stony Brook play in economic development, jobs creation, and generating the innovation that drives new discoveries and creates new businesses for our region. The new strategic plan for the State University of New York system unveiled this week helps spell out how much we can do for the State if our potential is truly unleashed.
A key component is the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA), a measure contained in the governor’s budget and in modified form in the Senate Budget Resolution. PHEEIA, which allows the SUNY Board of Trustees to set a fair, responsible, and equitable tuition rate, would enhance our academic programs, improve our ability to generate revenue from public/private partnerships and end some unnecessarily restrictive accounting practices. We see PHEEIA as vital to our future, a critical tool that, in one fell swoop, will strengthen public higher education across the state, save millions of taxpayers dollars, and drive economic development and improve the quality of life here on Long Island and throughout the state.
But right now, in the absence of a budget with no apparent relief from Albany, we must be fiscally responsible and live within our means. With so many millions of dollars slashed from our budget, and with passage of PHEEIA uncertain, we have to be extremely diligent and prudent, and not stray from the core elements of our missions of research and teaching. Practically, this means we will continue to target programmatic reductions, eliminate those that are relatively expensive and impact a small number of students, and can be made in the framework of tenure and unionization constraints.?In short, to make us stronger in the long run as one of the top public research universities in the country in these challenging economic times, we need to be as efficient as possible. Strategic realignment helps us achieve this goal.