SUNY faculty union warns of possible program, faculty cuts at SUNY Potsdam to reduce $9 million deficit
POTSDAM — An employees union representing SUNY faculty blames the SUNY board of trustees’ poor money management policies for the financial problems facing SUNY Potsdam and several other state colleges, and is critical of SUNY Potsdam’s plan to climb out of its current $9 million hole.
A plan being made public tomorrow to restructure and—according to multiple reports—potentially shrink SUNY Potsdam could have been averted if SUNY’s Board of Trustees had allocated $163 million in new SUNY state funding in the 2023-2024 state budget to lower projected multimillion-dollar deficits at Potsdam and 16 other SUNY campuses, said a press release from United University Professions.UUP, the union that represents more than 37,000 employees at the State University at New York, has serious concerns about the plan, which could result in cuts to programs, faculty and staff in several departments at the college to mitigate a projected $9 million deficit, the press release said.
“This is a manufactured crisis,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal. “There would be no need for such drastic steps if SUNY’s Board of Trustees distributed the $163 million in new state funding to reduce multimillion-dollar deficits at Potsdam and 16 other financially strapped SUNY campuses.”
UUP, through months of advocacy, was instrumental in securing those funds, which if distributed based on need, would have been more than enough to wipe out budget deficits at Potsdam and the other SUNY campuses—many of them upstate-based colleges.
“That money should have been distributed based on need, to erase projected deficits at Potsdam and our other campuses facing multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls—through no fault of their own,” said Kowal. “But the Trustees chose to use it in other ways, which, combined with declining enrollments at some SUNY colleges, has served to make the situation worse, certainly so at SUNY Potsdam.”
Budget shortfalls at Potsdam and other financially troubled SUNY campuses were caused, in large part, by massive Great Recession-era state funding cuts to SUNY and more than a decade of SUNY austerity budgets under the Cuomo administration, the union said.
According to state budget appropriation data, Potsdam has sustained a 74 percent cut in direct state funding compared to state fiscal year 2009-2010. If funding had remained at the 2009-2010 level of $42 million, Potsdam would have received, in total, an additional $396 million in direct state funding, the UUP said.
"No wonder enrollment has dropped at Potsdam,” Kowal said. “How can we expect students to place any value on this campus when the state and the SUNY Trustees clearly have not. Now, administration is poised to make cuts to programs and faculty that will only serve to further reduce enrollment and make it more difficult to retain students. Research has shown a direct correlation between lack of adequate state investment in public higher education and declining student enrollment.
“A more prudent approach would be to close the deficit and then develop a strategic plan for Potsdam going forward. Instead, SUNY is choosing to make further cuts, which are entirely unnecessary and will only serve to exacerbate an already untenable situation.”
According to a leaked August email from the college’s Faculty Senate chair, SUNY Potsdam has discontinued three bachelor’s programs and a graduate-level certificate program. Two other as-yet unnamed departments may also be cut. In May, local news outlets reported that the college may cut five of the nine full-time faculty and staff positions in its theater and dance department.
When adjusted for inflation, direct state funding to SUNY has been slashed by $7.8 billion since 2008-09—a 39 percent decline. Under Cuomo, students were forced to shoulder the majority of SUNY’s funding through tuition and fees. Students contribute $2 for every dollar the state provides, the UUP said.
“Years of underfunding SUNY has taken its toll,” Kowal said. “Campuses like Potsdam have been forced to utilize reserve funds, cut class sections, and reduce program offerings to balance their budgets. And that’s made it more difficult for them to attract and retain students, causing reduced tuition revenue and a widening budget gap.”
Kowal said that allocating state funding based on campus need would allow cash-starved colleges to resolve budget deficits and add course offerings—which will grow enrollments and help retain students. “We must grow our way out of this situation, not cut our way out of it,” he said. “The negative impacts of cuts to SUNY campuses over the last 15 years have clearly demonstrated this point.
“We are appreciative of Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature for increasing funding to SUNY in the 2023-2024 state budget,” said Kowal. “But a sustained, equitably distributed, increased state investment in SUNY is needed to reverse the financial damage caused during the Cuomo years, which has been the primary reason for lower student enrollments.”
UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.