Proposal would give SUNY financial flexibility

SUNY officials have proposed an act that would allow campuses to determine their own tuition rates without approval from the New York State Legislature.

The Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, introduced in mid-January, would allow SUNY schools to generate more of their own revenue.

"It would allow us to act more like a university than a state agency," Oswego State Vice President of Finance Nicholas Lyons said.

Currently, any increase SUNY wants to make in its tuition would still need to be approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees, but not by the legislature. The tuition increases would be made incrementally, Lyons said, and be based on strategic planning, rather than state needs.

"We normally only have tuition increases when the state is broke," Lyons said.

The act would also allow the SUNY system to have more independence and flexibility with purchasing. It would enable the SUNY schools to make purchases of up to a couple thousand dollars without having to get pre-approval from the state controllers office, Lyons said.

"It would be a post-approval process rather than a pre-approval [process]," Lyons said.

This would "remove a lot of red tape," Julie Blissert, head of public affairs at Oswego State said.

The United University Professions Union [UUP], which represents faculty members on SUNY campuses, does not agree with the proposed act.

"This new act would shift the entire funding for SUNY on the backs of students," said Steven Abraham, president of the Oswego chapter of UUP. "If the state does not fund SUNY anymore there can’t be any cuts from the state but there won’t be any money from the state."

Another part of the act would allow SUNY schools to lease land that is attached to their universities. It would be "revenue that you wouldn’t have to get from the state," Lyons said.

"I think that’s not a good thing because it would advantage some campuses more than others," Abraham said.

One issue that UUP and SUNY stand together on is their opposition to the additional cuts to the SUNY budget proposed in Gov. David Paterson’s 2010-11 fiscal year. Paterson’s plan calls for $118 million cut in funding to SUNY, Lyons said.

While it is too soon to say what the distribution loss would be for each SUNY campus, Lyons is confident that Oswego State’s reserves will let the college to continue "operating the way we’ve been operating for at least another two years."

"We’ve been very good about holding back on expenses so we can prolong the use of the reserves," Lyons said.

Representatives from SUNY UUP chapters will be meeting Feb. 4-7 in Albany for their regularly scheduled winter meeting. There they will be discussing the stance they wish to take on the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. On Friday afternoon they will march to oppose the tuition increase, Abraham said. While UUP has been successful getting information out about the budget cuts, they have not had success in getting Albany to adhere to their requests, Abraham said.

"It’s hard to know what the effect has been because we still have a pretty lousy budget," Abraham said. "It has not been a case where the governor has changed his budget based on what we’ve done."

One of the groups that has been suffered the most with the cuts is the college’s maintenance department, Lyons said. "We try to implement actions that have the least tangible effect to the education offering," he said.

There are currently ten positions being held vacant said Mary DePentu, director of maintenance and operations. The academic custodial branch has the most number of vacancies at eight.

"When we really feel the pinch is during a snowstorm," DePentu said. "When you are down staff and you have a significant snow event you start to see services decline in some areas." Snowstorms allocate staff members from other departments to clear walkways to make sure the campus remains as safe as possible.

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