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Fred Kowal: A Hero For SUNY

I knew it was going to be a lean year for SUNY, especially after the governor began talking about a $4.4 billion budget deficit, and how it was going to be a financially difficult year.

So, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that SUNY ended up with a flat budget in the proposed 2018-19 Executive Budget.

And once again, UUP will be advocating for more state dollars for the University and the state’s three public hospitals in SUNY. We believe in SUNY and the students and patients we serve. And we will fight for them. 

Just as there are financial realities facing the state, so are there realities when it comes to SUNY’s ability to deliver the educational excellence expected by our students and quality health care to our patients. SUNY will be hard-pressed to do either with this budget proposal.

Why? SUNY is still recovering from massive Great Recession budget cuts; the state has slashed support for SUNY by about half since 2008, from $1.36 billion to $674 million today.

Spurred by the state’s Excelsior Scholarship program, enrollment is increasing at SUNY’s four-year colleges. Campuses are in dire need of increased aid to hire more full-time faculty and provide student support services.

Too many campuses depend on hard-working part-time academics to fill those full-time vacancies. Other campuses, faced with funding deficits, have been forced to cut departments and courses, making it more and more difficult for students to get the courses they need to graduate on time.

Smart, effective plan

UUP addresses many of these problems with our 2018-19 legislative agenda, a fair and realistic plan we believe will allow SUNY to replenish its depleted full-time faculty ranks, close the so-called “TAP gap” and help our financially drained state-owned hospitals.

Freeing SUNY from covering the TAP gap would save the University $65 million it now pays to Tuition Assistance Program students to make up the difference between tuition and the maximum TAP award—or the TAP gap.  SUNY could direct those dollars to the campuses to improve services to students.

The Executive Budget allows funds in the state’s Performance Improvement Fund to be used to hire new classroom faculty. We applaud this step. Using those dollars, plus $30 million in new state funding, SUNY could hire up to 300 full-time, tenure-track faculty each year over the next five years.

Hospitals take hit

SUNY’s academic medical centers in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse, are facing many more challenges this year, from federal actions  and a lack of state support.

This year, the state is proposing to cut the hospitals’ subsidy—which was $153 million before the Great Recession. This funding is crucial for medical care, research and the education of future medical care providers.

These hospitals are the responsibility of the state. These are state hospitals, staffed by state employees and run for the benefit of New York’s citizens. These public, nonprofit hospitals have one goal: to heal the sick. The Legislature must restore the SUNY hospitals subsidy.

UUP will also press legislators to restore $5.3 million in proposed Executive Budget cuts to SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program, and $5 million to the Educational Opportunity Centers. The union proposes an additional $5.2 million and $1.6 million, respectively, to expand these successful programs.

Our union is behind a host of other initiatives, including new programs to increase teacher diversity in Pre-K-12 schools, and in SUNY. UUP is also calling for the creation of new green energy degree programs at SUNY technology sector campuses.

SUNY is worth fighting for. Our students are worth fighting for. Our patients are worth fighting for. And the 42,000 members who make SUNY work, are worth fighting for.

Together with students and our friends in the state Legislature, we will fight and win!

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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