Senator John A. DeFrancisco, Chair
Phillip H. Smith, Ph.D.
February 10, 2011
Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, distinguished members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees, thank you for providing the United University Professions (UUP) an opportunity to comment on Governor Cuomo’s 2011-2012 Executive Budget.
I am Phillip H. Smith, President of UUP, the largest higher education union in the nation. UUP represents more than 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University’s state-operated campuses and at its public teaching hospitals and health science centers. We serve hundreds of thousands of students and patients in every region of the State.
The past three years have severely challenged the ability of the State University’s state-operated campuses and hospitals to properly serve students and patients – challenges that they should not have been expected to meet – challenges that have, in fact, not been met.
SUNY’s academic institutions have already lost a significant percentage of their State funding – a much higher percentage than any other State agency or, for that matter, any functional program area.
The cuts to SUNY account for over 26% of the total spending reductions imposed on the state agencies during the past two fiscal years.
Prior to the reductions proposed in the Governor’s 2011-2012 Executive Budget, SUNY’s campuses had suffered a recurring annual reduction of State support of $585 million since 2008-2009.
Six times during that period, the operating budgets of SUNY’s state-operated campuses were cut. That’s more than a 30% reduction in the budgets of campuses attempting to educate over 200,000 students.
More than half of those cuts were implemented by the prior Administration through mid-year reductions and without your involvement or the benefit of public discussion with respect to the extremely harsh consequences reductions of that magnitude would produce.
In fact, State support for the state-operated campuses is currently less than the level of State funding available more than 20 years ago.
These reductions exceed the total State funding that was available in 2007-2008 to the University at Buffalo, Stony Brook, Albany and Binghamton.
The cuts are more than twice the State funding available at that time to the 13 comprehensive colleges.
That $585 million reduction is greater than the total operating budgets (combined State support and tuition) of Albany, Binghamton, Brockport, Cortland, Purchase, Cobleskill, Canton, Oneonta, Delhi and Maritime.
In a sense, it could be argued that these reductions effectively eliminate funding for eight of SUNY’s 29 campuses - which clearly demonstrates the enormous impact these reductions have had on the University as a whole.
It is unlikely that any other major university in this nation has lost such a high percentage of its operating resources particularly in such a short period of time.
Now, the Governor proposes to reduce State funding for SUNY’s state-operated campuses by about an additional $100 million. If this proposal is not rejected, SUNY’s state-operated campuses will have to absorb over $685 million annually in accumulated State reductions.
In effect, SUNY’s level of State support will be back to the level provided in the mid-1980’s – despite the fact that enrollment has grown by more than 40,000 students over much of that time frame.
Since that time, SUNY has experienced a reduction of over 1,300 full-time faculty positions.
It would need 2,700 additional full-time instructors just to achieve the faculty/student ratios that existed in the 1980s.
You have all heard that from campus to campus courses are being cancelled, class sizes are growing to levels never before experienced and students are compelled to compete for required courses.
Every day, we hear from SUNY students who are concerned that they will be unable to graduate on time.
Their level of frustration is so high that the SUNY student assembly has recently advocated for modest and predictable tuition increases.
It’s a simple matter of economics. The longer students are compelled to remain in school, the greater the expense to the State and, importantly, to the students and the families.
It makes make no sense to force delayed graduation.
So, the questions remain. Why has SUNY been so disproportionately impacted over the last three or four years? How do we explain to students and parents that access to our public institutions can no longer be assumed and that academic quality is not what it needs to be?
New York has come very close to negating 60 years of commitment to our public higher education institutions. We must not let that happen. The long term consequences are much too great.
Therefore, we strongly urge that regardless of how you approach your response to the Governor’s proposals, the operating budgets of SUNY’s campuses must be held harmless from further reductions. We must find ways to ensure that the university’s resource base remains intact.
Unfortunately, the budget also continues the State’s long standing practice of dismissing the need to adequately fund the University’s health care institutions.
We strongly disagree with Governor Cuomo’s proposal to completely eliminate the $154 million subsidy to our hospitals. When coupled with the likely impact of the Governor’s plan to significantly reduce State Medicaid spending, there will be an enormous negative impact on institutions which are already in serious financial jeopardy – as the result of years of State underfunding.
The Governor’s budget fails to recognize that these are publicly operated hospitals simply because they are required to serve, not only large populations of underinsured and uninsured patients, but also patients referred by other hospitals with medical conditions that require very costly treatment.
The quality of health care provided by these institutions is already at great risk, and the Governor’s proposals jeopardize the welfare of citizens whose health care depends on the viability of our hospitals.
We urgently request that, at a minimum, you restore the $154 million reduction in State support reflected in the Executive Budget and, in responding to the Governor’s Medicaid proposals, you recognize the unique funding requirements of SUNY’s teaching hospitals and health science centers.
The Governor’s proposals regarding SUNY flexibility are, unfortunately, mostly a rehash of last year’s failed attempt by SUNY to acquire for itself the unfettered and unrestricted freedom of its Research Foundation – an organization that has been challenged many times in recent years for the secrecy of its actions.
The Governor seeks to expand SUNY’s contractual flexibility by granting the SUNY Board of Trustees full power to approve transactions now subject, under existing statute, to your approval.
These proposals would allow SUNY to enter into long term leases of campus properties, to participate in partnerships and joint ventures and to have broader contract authority with respect to purchasing services without prior approval of any State oversight agency.
SUNY views itself as one of the State’s leading economic engines, but neglects to point out that educating the State’s workforce has greater economic value than pie in the sky notions of public/private partnerships and joint ventures.
SUNY claims that the current legislative oversight is unwieldy. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest this, nor is there concrete evidence that SUNY has lost a single revenue enhancement opportunity as a result of required legislative oversight.
We believe that legislative oversight protects students, our faculty, and the University as a whole. We believe that legislative oversight protects the taxpayers who help support SUNY operations.
We firmly submit that oversight by the legislature and the State should remain, and that the Governor’s proposal to grant SUNY additional flexibility should be rejected.
We know that the issues before you are pervasive and difficult. However, over the years, you have been the strongest advocates we have for the University and for its students. As always, we will greatly appreciate any help that you can provide to our hospitals and academic institutions in this extremely difficult environment.
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