Union concerned about possible program, faculty cuts at SUNY Potsdam

SUNY Potsdam
SUNY Potsdam(WWNY)
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 3:59 PM EDT
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - A union that represents more than 37,000 State University of New York employees is voicing concerns about possible cuts at SUNY Potsdam.

United University Professions blames SUNY’s board of trustees for the money problems at the college and 16 other SUNY campuses.

SUNY Potsdam, which is faced with a $9 million deficit, will tell the public on Tuesday how it plans to fix the school’s financial situation.

7 News plans to air SUNY Potsdam’s announcement live on WNYF Fox 28. It’s expected to start at 10 a.m.

Last month, faculty leadership at SUNY Potsdam said the college is at a breaking point, and substantial cuts are coming for programs and personnel.

UUP says the potential cuts could have been averted if SUNY trustees had allocated $163 million in new SUNY state funding in the 2023-2024 state budget to lower projected deficits at Potsdam and 16 other SUNY campuses.

“This is a manufactured crisis,” said UUP President Frederick Kowal in a news release. “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 says it 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.

“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.”

The union says 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.

According to state budget appropriation data, the union says 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, the union says Potsdam would have received, in total, an additional $396 million in direct state funding.

“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.”

The union says research has shown a direct correlation between lack of adequate state investment in public higher education and declining student enrollment.

Kowal says 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.

He continued: “We are appreciative of Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature for increasing funding to SUNY in the 2023-2024 state budget. 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.”