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SBU prez faces budget woes, job cuts coming

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April 14, 2010 | 09:41 AM
A looming $34 million budget shortfall at Stony Brook University may have taken its first casualties — practically all of the programs at Stony Brook Southampton and a large facility in Manhattan — but those cuts will only address a small portion of the fiscal hole. SBU President Dr. Samuel Stanley still needs to find $26 million more in cuts or additional revenue to close the gap.

"We want to do this right," said Dr. Stanley on Friday. "This is people's lives." He noted that 82 percent of Stony Brook's budget is comprised of personnel costs, so filling the gap cannot be done without cutting jobs. "We're looking at everything we're doing," he said, while at the same time seeking areas where the university can generate revenue.

In revealing part of his thinking to achieve the required cuts, Dr. Stanley listed administrative staff and then "the I.T. sector" as his first targets, but said those areas alone would not fill the gap. "The cuts will have an impact on the academic side," he added. Dr. Stanley said decisions to be reached and plans to be implemented need to mostly be in place "before July 1," beginning of the state fiscal year.

Dr. Stanley took responsibility for the cuts already made — and more to come. He said his "senior leadership team," including Provost Eric Kaler, Vice President for Finance and Administration Karol Gray and Vice President for Facilities and Services Barbara Chernow, among others, consult and advise him, "but ultimately I'm the president." Dr. Stanley said he keeps SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher apprised of his decisions "but I am not dictated by Albany."

Michael Schwartz, a sociology professor and president of the University Senate, is pragmatic in his view of SBU's fiscal dilemma. "Unavoidable, drastic cutbacks will happen this year," Schwartz said Friday. He predicted hundreds of part-time instructors will be laid off and significant reductions in the number of courses being offered. "Undergraduates will almost definitely be hurt this coming year," said Schwartz. He said a meeting was planned with Kaler this week to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, Schwartz acknowledged the "tremendous administration effort to minimize impacts" on education at SBU. He said the first round of cuts, two years ago, "were covered without reducing class offerings." Schwartz criticized Albany for its move last year to raise tuition by $600 "which went elsewhere" and was not plowed back into higher education in New York State.

Last year, Schwartz said, there was a "very dramatic" cut in the number of classes at SBU. He said most faculty support Gov. David Paterson's proposed Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act to address long-term fiscal issues across the state university system. A survey conducted by the University Senate and released Monday indicated an overwhelming number of respondents supported the measure, now in limbo during the current budget negotiations in the state Legislature. The survey can be viewed on the senate's website, www.stonybrook.edu/univsenate. Dr. Stanley has vigorously supported PHEEIA, saying its plan to permit SUNY to raise tuition without legislative approval — and particularly its provision to permit higher tuition at SUNY's four research universities than other state campuses — is in the long-term best interest of Stony Brook.

The president of the United University Professions, West Campus union, Arthur Shertzer, is taking a wait-and-see attitude while expressing his concern for the future of many of his members.

"First we'll see what the Legislature comes up with," Shertzer said Monday. "We're worried about people's livelihoods." Noting the large percentage of SBU's budget that goes to personnel, Shertzer said his roughly 2,400 members of UUP — including 74 at Southampton — remain hopeful that Albany will find additional funding for SUNY. "It ain't over till it's over," he said, adding, "It's an election year."

However, election year or not: "There's no money," said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). "Unlike Washington, we can't print it." Englebright was speaking Monday from the floor of the Assembly in Albany where 2010-11 budget wrangling continues — as usual well beyond the April 1 deadline. He said a $9.2 billion gap still needs to be closed. The Assembly has proposed adding back $600 million in short-term borrowing, but Englebright said the state Senate has not yet signed on. However the assemblyman was guardedly optimistic that the money to close the gap, if not much additional funding for SBU, would be found. "The Legislature is standing for re-election" in November, he said.

Looking longer term, Dr. Stanley said the current fiscal crisis at SBU will "slow down" but not derail some of his goals for the university, announced during his inaugural address last October. Those goals include hiring 400 additional faculty over the next decade and expanding SBU's role in cutting-edge research. He said adverse impacts next year at the SBU Medical Center would be minimal since "clinical practice revenue" is generated there. Dr. Stanley said attrition may be permitted to reduce staff at SBUMC and some "reassignments" may be in order. In the meantime the M.D. continues his search for a new medical school dean. Regarding SBU's research and development park west of Stony Brook Road, Dr. Stanley said the budget situation would have little impact on the two existing facilities but further expansion would be slowed.

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