While Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley was among the most active lobbyists for the NYSUNY 2020 bill, the final version that passed the Legislature on Friday is quite different from what they called for.
Most notable is the absence of a “Keep It At SUNY” provision, which would guarantee that all revenue generated from tuition hikes remained within the SUNY system. Previous tuition increases imposed by the state have been poorly received because as much as 90% of those increases have gone back into the state’s general fund.
Based on statements given to Think on Thursday by Senators LaValle and Flanagan, it became clear that while there is support for the “Keep It At SUNY” provision, it would nonetheless not be in the bill.
At the same time, the bill does contain a Maintenance of Effort provision, guaranteeing that SUNY’s state funding will remain at or above the budget for the 2010-2011 academic year, but only under the condition that it could be cut if the Governor, with the consent of the Assembly and Senate, declares a fiscal emergency.
Also missing from the bill is fully differential tuition. President Stanley and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher had consistently argued that individual SUNY campuses, particularly the four university centers, should be able to charge higher tuition rates to fund their more expensive research programs.
Instead, this bill calls for a system-wide increase of up to $300 for each of the next five years, not the seven to eight percent increase at the university centers as the original bill provided.
For out-of-state students though, differential tuition will take effect this fall. University centers are now authorized to increase their out-of-state tuition rates by as much as 10%, potentially a $1,300 increase every year. The exact figures will remain unclear until each university submits its proposal to the SUNY Board of Trustees, due in November.
While the version of the bill that passed on Friday was weaker in many areas than President Stanley and SUNY had hoped for, SUNY spokesman Morgan Hook released a statement almost immediately after the final vote in the Assembly applauding the bill’s passage.
When Stony Brook University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow was asked on Thursday if President Stanley would still support the bill without “Keep It At SUNY”, she pointed out that he was on the record as saying the bill’s success was conditional on the university keeping all of the money.
Even so, President Stanley joined the chorus of supporters in commending Albany for the bill’s passage.
“We express our deepest gratitude to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Skelos, Assembly Speaker Silver and the entire State Legislature for a bill that is absolutely transformative,” said President Stanley in prepared remarks released by SUNY shortly after the bill passed.
The threat of tuition increases funneling back to the state’s general fund remains low at this point. Governor Cuomo has promised that any additional revenue generated by these tuition increases will remain at SUNY, and the Keep It In SUNY provision has the support of leadership in the Senate and Assembly.
“The university trusts that the governor is good for his word, and that’s why it was very important that they passed the bill,” said Sheprow when reached for comment on Saturday.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher has also gone on the record as trusting Cuomo’s promise.
But trusting promises from Albany is a hard pill to swallow for some. United University Professions spokeswoman Denyce Duncan Lacy says that while the UUP is largely pleased with the final bill, they will be keeping a close eye on Albany.
“We believe the intention is there to keep the money on the campuses, but we’ll be watching very closely, we’ll be very vigilant,” she said.
Promises also have a shelf life of as long as a term lasts. Governor Cuomo will be up for reelection in 2014, and the entire legislature even sooner than that. Since the plan goes on for five years, a whole new group of lawmakers could oversee the final years of implementation of NYSUNY 2020.
And if the economy falters, SUNY could be in trouble. Language in the bill already suggests that SUNY could be a likely target for additional cuts in the case of a fiscal emergency.
Despite the changes from the original bill, SUNY and its university presidents have remained unanimously supportive of the revised version of NYSUNY 2020, at least publically.
Privately though, whispers of reservations over what was left out have already begun to surface.