Depending on whom you ask, Stony Brook professors are either in favor of or opposed to NYSUNY 2020, the bill that will, among other things, significantly increase the tuition rates at New York’s four public university centers. The internal conflict is a microcosm of the larger debate playing out across New York.
Fred Walter, an astronomy professor and the president of the University Senate, submitted an Op-Ed to Think in favor of NYSUNY 2020. He also joined President Stanley at a press conference on Long Island.
Meanwhile, the United University Professions, the union that represents Stony Brook University faculty, is opposed to the bill in its current form.
So is Philosophy Department Chairman Robert Harvey, who spoke out against NYSUNY 2020 in a recent interview with Think Magazine.
The lack of a provision calling for tuition dollars to remain at individual campuses was troubling for Harvey, but even a measure that guarantees the money remains with SUNY is insufficient, he argues.
“That could just make SUNY Central fatter,” he said.
In other areas, NYSUNY 2020 doesn’t do enough to solve bigger problems, according to Harvey. The estimated 245 new faculty members that Stony Brook would be able to hire with passage of the bill will not fill the holes that years of budget cuts left, he says.
“My department desperately needs to hire two professors, or a 20% increase… if you extrapolate that out to the rest of the university, you get way more than 245,” he said. “Even if the sciences departments needed half that number, 245 new hires would still not be enough to replace all of the professors who retired or took jobs at other universities.”
Walter, on the other hand, said that the ratio of professors to students would go from bad to better than the average compared to other leading research universities.
The opposing viewpoints represented by Harvey and Walter is perhaps a demonstration of the equally opposing arenas that sciences and humanities occupy.
Stony Brook is well known for its science programs, and even with a sizeable tuition increase would remain significantly cheaper than most research universities. An increased professor to student ratio would only make the university more competitive.
Humanities programs, on the other hand, are not as costly to run nor quite as well known, but they are popular due to their low price. While Harvey has rejected the notion that tuition increases will make Stony Brook any less popular among Long Island students, he did express some concerns about the ability of Humanities programs to attract upstate students, who would be paying a premium to attend Stony Brook over other SUNY colleges not impacted by NYSUNY 2020.
Smaller departments in either discipline may need the bill to guarantee their future at Stony Brook and some individuals may have ideological objections to raising tuition.
Many other departments declined or ignored requests for interviews, or were in the process of finding a new chairperson and did not think it proper to weigh in on the topic.
What has become clear from discussions with leaders on both sides of this debate is that there will be a number of disappointed faculty members if and when the tentative deal involving NYSUNY 2020 goes through, and that whether Stony Brook faces competition from SUNY schools with smaller classes or lower prices, there will still be difficulties resulting from years of state budget cuts to overcome.