President Stanley met with campus media today, and announced that as of the next academic year, the undergraduate student population would be capped at its current levels, putting at least a temporary hold on what had been years of continual growth.
The cap is necessitated by continuing budget woes, and is a response to what President Stanley called “the failure of the state to adequately fund us.”
“If we can’t increase our revenue per student, we don’t want to add more students,” he explained. “We’ve been growing but we haven’t been adding faculty fast enough. We cant keep doing that, and that’s because the quality of your education is going to suffer.”
New York State is once again passing down huge cuts to each of the 64 campuses in the State University of New York system. Stony Brook has already drafted a budget for the next academic year that presumes a further $10 million in cuts on top of the $59 million that have been cut already over the last two years.
The news follows a disappointing summer for President Stanley and other supporters of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, a bill that would have granted greater autonomy to individual SUNY campuses and given them more control over their own tuition costs. PHEEIA was ultimately excluded from the state budget, though ongoing negotiations may yet result in the passage of some of the key provisions.
“We’re profoundly disappointed that at the end the legislature did not adopt any components of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act,” said Stanley. “But I’m going to continue to push for the elements of PHEEIA.”
As added incentive, former Stony Brook professor and Chairman Emeritus of the Stony Brook Foundation James Simons is holding back a $150 million donation to the university until PHEEIA or some iteration of it is passed. The gift would more than double Stony Brook’s existing endowment, and would constitute the biggest single gift ever given to a SUNY school, far surpassing his own previous record of $60 million.
In the meantime, Stony Brook is turning to new avenues in the hopes of cutting costs. A new initiative called Project 50 Forward has been implemented, and will flush out inefficiencies within the university and its administration. The hope, says President Stanley, is that the implementation of the findings of Project 50 Forward will save the university as much as $30 million annually.
Other cost cutting moves are already underway, though in some cases out of the public eye. Retirement packages are being offered to personnel, and there is a hiring freeze on many positions, as vacancies are left unfilled. On a more superficial level, contracts with landscapers are shrinking, and maintenance work is being cut.
But what really worries President Stanley, and what should cause concern among students, is the impact that cuts may have on academic offerings. Unlike in years past, when academics were shielded as best as possible from most of the penny-pinching moves, there have already been cutbacks on course offerings with more on the way.
Whole departments are even in jeopardy. While no concrete plans exist as of this date, the provost’s office is exploring the possibility of merging several smaller departments into a single larger one to trim administrative costs. The Asian-American Studies department has been listed as one possible casualty.
As for remedies, President Stanley placed some of the responsibility on students.
“It becomes more and more important for [students] to really look at advising and really think carefully about what classes you need to graduate,” he said.
Additionally, Stony Brook is adding summer courses to help students who are shut out of required classes during the fall and spring semesters. This past summer saw the largest enrollment numbers ever for summer session.
Also discussed at the presser was the Southampton situation. A recent court decision found that Stony Brook had violated state law by closing most of the operations at the Shinnecock Hills campus and relocated about 85% of its students to the main campus. The plaintiffs in the case, six Stony Brook Southampton students, have filed a judgment proposal that, if accepted by the judge, would force Stony Brook to reopen the campus by the Spring 2011 semester. Stony Brook University has until September 17 to file its own proposal. When asked to comment on the case, President Stanley had little to say other than that the university “will be submitting a response to the court.”