SUNY and Stony Brook University officials have been incessantly giving New York an earful. Budget cuts, they claim, are crippling the university system and hurting its 465,000 students. Budget cuts, they say, have pried more than $500 million dollars from SUNY’s grip over the past few years. But are the state’s struggles with a sluggish economy and the decades of tax cuts for the rich solely to blame, or is the university’s top-heavy administration needlessly soaking up funds?
After SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was summoned to appear before the State Senate Committee on Higher Education, her foot soldiers of spin sent out a press release touting her “bold and creative leadership.” It heralded Zimpher and her top deputy for waiving their housing allowances to fund huge raises for executive staffers. But if the media hadn’t publicized the raises in the first place, Zimpher’s move to line the pockets of her cronies would have gone unchecked by the legislature.
Her decision to dole out pay raises of 10 to 13 percent to her executive staff couldn’t have come at a worse time. SUNY Central employs 441 people (78 of whom make more than $100,000), and more than 200 of those workers have been forced to stay home one or two days a month and lose a day’s pay. And while Zimpher and pals have campaigned ceaselessly for greater autonomy, many New Yorkers have gotten acquainted with the Chancellor by reading about this performance before the State Senate in the papers.
After unpacking her bags in New York last year, Zimpher has few accomplishments to show. Zimpher often mentions that she has visited all 64 campuses, but that tour only took 100 days and cost SUNY more than $27,000—nearly the annual salary of one of the security guards Zimpher laid off over the summer. She’s spent countless hours simpering about New York’s need for PHEEIA—even while she was testifying before state senators about exorbitant raises and perks she gave to her top officials. Zimpher even managed to throw in a jab about how legislators failed to pass the PHEEIA legislation. But even if her lobbying had been successful, she doesn’t seem like a leader who needs less oversight.
There is something that Zimpher hasn’t done, and that’s tap into the hundreds of millions in cash currently sitting in an account, waiting for a rainy day. But it’s raining now.
One needs only to listen to SUNY’s claims that budget cuts have created a crisis to realize an umbrella of aid is badly needed. After Senate Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Toby Stavisky wrote several letters of complaint, Zimpher reportedly gave her word to the Senator that she would release some of these funds. But she hasn’t yet, and if she does, keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t go towards making her rich staff richer.