LI officials blast Cuomo's SUNY cuts

Stony Brook University students walk near the student

Stony Brook University students walk near the student activity center in the center of the campus Tuesday in Stony Brook. (Feb. 1, 2011) (Credit: John Dunn)

In what some legislators and college officials labeled devastating cuts, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday proposed reducing aid to the State University of New York system by more than $130 million and eliminating state subsidies to SUNY's three teaching hospitals, including the one at Stony Brook University.

The college was particularly hard hit, with officials there decrying what they say is a 30 percent cut in direct state aid; Cuomo's proposal amounts to a 10 percent reduction overall.

"We are surprised by the size of the cuts proposed in the Executive Budget, which - specifically to our teaching hospital - are unprecedented," Stony Brook officials said in a statement, adding that the move will have "a profound impact" on Long Island and the region.

"Not only are we receiving an estimated $12 million cut to direct state funding on the academic side, we are also looking at a $55 million cut to our teaching hospital, which represents the hospital's entire direct State support. . . . We hope that this inequity is recognized and can be rectified in the days ahead," the Stony Brook statement read.

Cuomo proposed slashing more than $100 million from SUNY's four-year colleges and more than $33 million from community colleges. Eliminating support for the teaching hospitals amounts to a cut of $135 million. He proposed no increase in tuition.

"We remain deeply concerned about our mounting fiscal challenges and how they will impact our ability to provide a quality experience and education for our students," SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said. "With one million patient visits each year, the cut will severely impair our hospitals' ability to provide care in their communities."

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), chairman of the Senate's higher education committee, said he "wants to make sure that any cuts for SUNY are being done in a fair and equitable way. We have a university hospital at Stony Brook which is critically important."

Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), LaValle's Assembly counterpart, said the cuts "look pretty substantial and it is, of course, on top of the two-and-a-half years of fairly serious cuts already."

The proposed budget would cut $4.5 million from Nassau Community College, said executive vice president Kenneth Saunders.

"This would be on top of the cut in state aid over the past 13 months of another $8 million," he said. "At a time when people are looking to community colleges to help revive the economy throughout the country and here in New York State, these proposed cuts are counterproductive to NCC's fulfilling these expectations."

The budget does include legislation that would enable SUNY to streamline its procurement processes and provide it greater flexibility to engage in public-private partnerships.

The budget keeps Tuition Assistance Program benefits at current year levels.

It cuts $4.7 million, about 10 percent, in spending for the Long Island Veterans' Home, operated by Stony Brook, which provides long-term skilled nursing services.

The budget also reduces unrestricted financial assistance to New York's independent colleges and universities by 10 percent. Long Island University officials said that would amount to about $65,000. Adelphi said its cut would be $74,000.

Farmingdale State College freshman Billy Gille, 18, didn't agree with the governor's plan. "I don't think it's right to take from us," the business management major said.

The SUNY Student Assembly criticized Cuomo's proposal for no tuition increase.

"SUNY students think this is unwise," Student Assembly president Julie Gondar said in a statement. "We feel keeping tuition at the current level is simply not sustainable, and does not support access and affordability in the long-term. For over three years now, the Student Assembly has proposed a rational tuition policy that would ensure annual, predictable increases that are fair, equitable and responsible. After Chancellor Nancy Zimpher's proposal of a five year tuition plan at the first ever State of the University address two weeks ago, we thought we were finally going to get our wish."

"This latest cut compounded by a lack of tuition revenue goes against New York's pledge to provide access to quality education. This comes on top of $1.1 billion in reductions over the past three years - which are beginning to manifest into cuts in academic programs."

With Michael Amon

and Paul LaRocco

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