As the hands of lecture hall’s clock struck 7:30 a.m., 448 students were expected to take their seats in the hall’s floor or on its balcony and click in. This Wednesday Classical Physics lecture had almost full attendance. As students walked in, some murmured about clicking in and then falling asleep. A handful just clicked in and left. The rest of the students, like sophomore Wasif Iqbal, stayed. Later in the semester, the biology major said that budget cuts were likely to blame for the scheduling of the class’ single lecture section at this early hour.
Deputy Provost W. Brent Lindquist said the scheduling of the class was a result of university’s limited resources.
“It’s a function of trying to deliver all of our classes with reduced resources, reduced manpower,” said Lindquist. The availability of classroom space and faculty are factors which determine the classes that can be offered.
“We have issues on both, to be very frank about it,” said Lindquist. “We are trying to maximize the giving of classes based on space we have available and faculty that we have to teach.”
The scheduling of the Classical Physics class is not the sole manifestation of the university’s hardships.
“The number of our course sections have been reduced by 12 percent in the past two years,” said university Budget Director Mark Maciulaitis on Nov. 2. “In the past three years, the funding for our academic areas has gone down by 13.9 percent.” This year, a total $24 million was cut from Stony Brook University’s state budget and it has sustained a $62-million cut in state funding over the past three years, said Maciulaitis. The SUNY system, of which Stony Brook is part, lost $635 million, or 30 percent, of its funding over the past three years, according to Casey Vittamo of the SUNY communications office in an Oct. 19 email.
“As a result, campuses are employing a number of different methods in order to best preserve the academic quality that our students expect and deserve. Some examples may include enrollment restrictions, soft and hard hiring freezes, delaying or eliminating new equipment purchases, increasing class sizes and offering fewer class sections,” said Vittamo.
Physics 131 is a required course for many engineering and science students and it needed to be expanded to accommodate the demand for the only section of the class, said Rick Gatteau, director of Undergraduate Advising. “When you’re an administrator and you have to make a decision, you have to weigh both sides,” said Gatteau. “Do you keep the time slot and limit enroll- ment or expand capacity?”
Iqbal said the class’ time slot is an obstacle to learning. “That’s what’s going to kill the students, not the concepts,” said Iqbal.
His sentiments were mirrored by fellow student Sal Caiola weeks before during a phone interview. “The class is way too early,” he said.
Provost and Vice President of Brookhaven Affairs Eric Kaler said the budgetary challenges the university is facing are significant but emphasized that preserving the university’s academic mission is of chief concern.
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “has made it very clear that academics are the priority of a university and that’s been reflected in how budget reductions have been allocated to the various units,” Kaler said during an October interview. “The academic units have taken a smaller reduction than the administrative and other problematic areas.”
Academics haven’t gone completely unscathed. Sophomore Meaghan Broderick said course availability for spring 2011 was the major change she noticed on campus this semester. She said, on Nov. 15, that only seven organic chemistry labs still had a few open spaces and fewer sections of classes were being offered when the biology major registered for her classes.
Kaler said he didn’t think students were fully aware of the extent of the university’s financial situation.
“Because if they were, I think they’d be much more involved in the political process in Albany to get some relief for SUNY,” Kaler said.
Moiz Khan Malik, the Undergraduate Student Government’s director of Event Planning and former USG treasurer, said students believe that the university did not lobby the state correctly and that the state did not correctly recognize the importance of SUNY.
The possible restructuring of the SUNY system was a focus of Stony Brook campus media after Gov. David Paterson included the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act in his 2010-2011 budget before it failed in August. The measure was in- tended to take Albany politics and regulation out of the function of the SUNY system by reforming the state’s control over three aspects of public higher education—tuition, public-private partner- ships and procurement.
John Marburger III, vice president for research, experienced the state’s budgetary problems during his tenure as the university’s third president between 1980 and 1994. “We went through three recessions—one of them around 1980 was, up until now, the most serious recession since World War II,” Marburger said. “So, I’m familiar with recessions and state budget cuts. None of them is as bad as this.”
Marburger said that in the past, the state legislature had increased tuition to resolve SUNY’s budget problems. “The legislature likes to keep the tuition low but you can’t keep it flat forever,” said Marburger. “You have to increase it occasionally because expenses go up so, periodically, they would raise the tuition.”
On the other side of the country, the University of California system is also suffering financially. There, how- ever, tuition increases are being used to mitigate budgetary shortfall. On Nov. 18, the University of California Board of Regents increased student fees by $822, or 8 percent, for the 2011-2012 academic year, according to The Guardian, a student newspaper at University of California, San Diego. This could bring an additional $180 million to University of California coffers to combat the system’s $1 billion deficit.
Near the beginning of this semester, Stanley announced Project 50 For- ward, a measure meant to streamline and improve the university’s management academics, facilities and operations. Through a gift given by the Stony Brook Foundation, Bain & Company, a management consulting firm, is doing a comprehensive evaluation of the university’s function. At a Sept. 10 press conference, Stanley said the administration is looking to save between 7 to 10 percent of its addressable budget through implementing Bain & Company’s recommendations. In a rough estimate, Stanley said, “We would love at some point in time to be able to save somewhere around $30 million a year but we’ll see whether we can reach that goal.”
Bain & Company is still evaluating the university’s financial performance.
Maciulaitis, the budget director, emphasized that the university is doing everything it can to spare academics, but that other entities could only be cut so much. “So we’re trying to cut the areas that deal with the students the least, the most,” said Maciulaitis. “That’s one way of looking at it. But the cuts that we are receiving are so big…we can’t hold everybody harmless in this.”
Among the entities that have been heavily cut are Campus Residences and Campus Facilities and Operations. “To date we have cut approximately $1.8 million in operating expense and anticipate that we may need to make further cuts in the future,” said Dallas W. Bauman, assistant vice president for Cam- pus Residences, in an Oct. 1 email. “Campus Residences’ revenue is generated from the rents paid by residents. So while our operating revenue is not directly affected by state funding cuts, the unfortunate fiscal climate has affected us adversely.” Some Campus Residences employees have taken early retirement and some of the vacated positions will remain vacant if they are of minimal impact on resident student life, said Bauman. Some cuts were manifested through the shortened length of RA training before the start of this semester and lowered expenditures for the Leadership recognition ceremony and the Academic Achievement Banquet, which shrunk from a three course dinner to an appetizer and dessert buffet.
“As is the case with the entire University, Campus Residences has had to make selective reductions in services,” explained Bauman. “Again, as is our overriding theme, careful consideration is given when reviewing potential cuts so that the residential experience is as unaffected as possible.” As of Nov.15, Campus Residences had reduced landscaping spending by $150,000.
The main campus is feeling the financial hurt as well, as lawns remain littered with fallen leaves a little longer than in years previous.
“We lost 63 members to our work- force, [which is] 9.8 percent of our state workforce and in terms of dollars, we’ve been cut $7.3 million, 37-ish percent of our state dollars since 2008,” said Barbara Chernow, vice president for Facilities and Services, on Oct. 29. “So, frankly, that’s a lot of money and that’s a big percentage of the staff we use to maintain our facilities and do custodial and janitorial work.”
Chernow said that faculty and staff have been supportive in spite of the service cut backs.
“Some people have asked if they can bring their trash to a central location and in some buildings where that was the majority of the requests that’s what we did,” said Chernow. “The reduced services is [meant] to meet a new level of funding so we’re doing our share to live within our budget.”
High-traffic public areas, like cafeterias and public bathrooms, are still maintained every day, said Chernow. Senior Pooja Patel said she hadn’t noticed major slips in maintenance.
“They could keep the bathroom a bit cleaner, if anything,” said Patel.
This funding comes from the university’s operational budget, which is used to keep the lights on and our teachers teaching, said Chernow. The university also has a capital budget, which is meant for construction and building projects.
“One of the ways we are prioritizing is looking at the capital dollars we were given in critical maintenance to, as always, to try to make our buildings watertight and safe but there are some other projects that will also make our buildings watertight safe…and cut down on operating costs,” said Cher- now. These projects include replacing windows and high temperature water pipes.
Maciulaitis said a thing in the university’s favor is Stanley’s dedication to improving the situation. A quick fiscal recovery, though possible, is unlikely.
He said departments realize that the state economy, not the budget department is responsible for these cuts.
“They realize it’s not the budget office that’s doing this to them, it’s the condition of the state economy that’s doing this,” said Maciulaitis. “These days shall pass.”