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September 24, 2010

UUP blasts SUNY officers' raises, executive perks

ALBANY – The approval of hefty pay raises for three top State University of New York officers as hundreds of SUNY employees are being furloughed and dozens more face layoffs is unconscionable, says the leader of United University Professions, the union that represents academic and professional faculty at SUNY. UUP President Phillip H. Smith's comments came during testimony before the Senate Higher Education Committee today. The committee conducted a public hearing on the recent $30,000 pay hikes approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees for three SUNY executives who already earn more than $200,000.

"Is it appropriate for these increases to be granted when SUNY officials have seen fit to furlough hundreds of lower salaried System Administration employees and to lay off dozens of others? Of course not. This is unconscionable," Smith testified.

While UUP does not normally comment on SUNY's executive compensation, Smith says he was compelled to speak out given the lack of advance public disclosure of the raises and the harsh economic climate SUNY students and their parents face.

"Should SUNY be doling out such benefits while at the same time seeking unlimited differential tuition and other increased charges to students and families?," Smith asked, answering his own question with an emphatic "Absolutely not."

Smith also took issue with SUNY's spending of millions of dollars to reconstruct executive offices at SUNY headquarters.

"The current executive offices at SUNY Plaza were deemed adequate by previous chancellors from Cliff Wharton right on through to Admiral Ryan," Smith said. "In face of the worst fiscal crisis facing New York and the University in decades, what is the rationale for an executive 'perk' at this time?"

Smith testified such troubling actions by SUNY provide an even stronger case for the union's opposition to the so called Empowerment Act, legislation that would have removed any remaining oversight over SUNY's executive decisions.

"These recent actions by SUNY's administration show us, in no uncertain terms, that those who wish to privatize our State University may not have the interests of our students and taxpayers in mind," he said. "We need to remind the chancellor and the Board of Trustees that this is not their University," Smith added. "This University belongs to its students and to the people of New York who expect the priority of the University to be the education of their children. New York state's hard-working families deserve nothing less."

Smith also told the panel that SUNY is sitting on about one-half billion dollars in reserve funds while the University is reeling from the effects of $562 million in budget cuts made over the past two years. The impact of those cuts include bigger class sizes, course cancellations and the denial of admission to thousands of qualified applicants.

"We cannot understand why SUNY is not using its reserves to remedy these issues," Smith said.

The union president reminded the committee that the SUNY chancellor promised during a budget hearing months ago to release $147 million of those reserves, but so far, that has not occurred.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.


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