SUNY Potsdam faculty told to ‘brace for impact’ as college faces $9M deficit

Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 4:10 PM EDT
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - After years of operating at a budget deficit, faculty leadership at SUNY Potsdam says the college is at a breaking point, and substantial cuts are coming for programs and personnel.

The deficit has ballooned in size and the SUNY system will no longer be bailing the college out.

“Brace for impact.” That’s the warning from Greg Gardner, the head of SUNY Potsdam’s Faculty Senate, to his colleagues as the college prepares to make cuts that Gardner says are “beyond anything we have seen on the campus in living memory.”

In an internal letter to faculty (shown below this article), Gardner writes that the college is now facing a $9 million deficit and previous estimates of increased enrollment were far off base.

Gardner also announced that the university would be cutting four programs.

Those are the bachelor of science programs for geographic information systems and for computer science education, the bachelor of arts program for speech communications, and a certificate of advanced study program in college teaching.

Gardner says each of these programs has “little or no enrollment,” but one faculty member dedicated solely to each program.

He says these cuts are difficult, but “deeper and more painful campus-wide cuts, including program cuts, will be forthcoming.”

In May, we learned five members of the Department of Theatre and Dance were told their contracts were recommended to not be renewed.

Gardner says at least two more departments are likely to see cuts and reorganizations.

SUNY Potsdam President Suzanne Smith declined to speak with 7 News.

But a spokesperson for the college said in a statement that President Smith is working on a plan for fiscal stability which she will “be formally the entire campus community in the coming weeks, and is confident that it will secure SUNY Potsdam’s future for years to come.”

In his letter, Gardner writes that “President Smith and her team did not get us into this mess.” He says SUNY is now holding the school accountable for “what we failed to do over many years.”

He says previous administrations were warned that difficult decisions needed to be made but failed to act.

Gardner says he has been “assured that the program decisions are ‘data driven’” based on enrollment and other quantitative measurements, so “departments and individual faculty members are not competing with each other for a place in the lifeboats.”

Below is the full statement from the SUNY spokesperson:

“We are aware of the Faculty Senate’s communication with its members and appreciate their deep concern for the future of SUNY Potsdam – a concern we share.

“Through various means—including SUNY Potsdam’s reserves, SUNY resources, and Federal Stimulus funds—SUNY Potsdam has managed a structural deficit of $4 million and higher for multiple years. That structural deficit now stands at a conservative $9 million challenge that we must resolve.

“President Smith is working in conjunction with SUNY on a plan that will put the College on a path to fiscal stability and tackle head-on the challenges we face, while putting forward-thinking and proactive programs in place to maximize our many strengths. The President will be formally announcing that plan to the entire campus community in the coming weeks, and is confident that it will secure SUNY Potsdam’s future for years to come.”

Below is Gardner’s full letter: