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SUNY Chancellor: LI campuses face cuts, crowding

Students relax in the sun on the SUNY

Students relax in the sun on the SUNY Stony Brook campus. (October 10, 2006) Credit: Newsday File / Jim Peppler

Stony Brook University and Long Island's four other state college campuses face the prospect of drastic cuts later this year that probably will lead to crowded classes, fewer chances for students to do science research, and reduced services in everything from residence halls to business partnerships, the SUNY chancellor said in an interview Thursday.

Referring to Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed budget, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said, "This is extremely threatening to our ability to continue to provide a quality educational experience to students."

Facing a projected $8.2-billion budget shortfall, Paterson called for cutting $157 million from SUNY in 2010-11, including $95 million from the system's flagship campuses - Stony Brook, Binghamton, Albany and Buffalo.

The State Legislature's Democratic leaders said they will fight the proposed SUNY cuts. "As if subtracting from the greatest investment the state can make in its future makes sense," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said last week.

Zimpher said she would like to make up for the possible cuts by charging higher tuition. Since the legislature must sign off on any tuition increase, Zimpher said that she is frustrated because it has resisted giving campuses more autonomy in everything from setting tuitions to purchasing materials.

"We have new leadership at SUNY, we have new ways of doing business," said Zimpher, who took the top job at the 64-campus system last summer. "Isn't it time the legislature behaved in a new . . . way?"

The budget crisis comes as applications to local SUNY campuses - Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and Farmingdale State College - are soaring because parents and students are increasingly looking for cheaper higher education alternatives. In addition, Nassau and Suffolk community colleges are reeling from record enrollments.

"Our community colleges are really, really chafing" from the potential loss of millions of dollars in state aid, Zimpher said.

Assemb. James Conte (R-Huntington Station), a Higher Education Committee member, said he agreed that SUNY campuses should be allowed to set their own tuitions, with the research universities charging more. "I've called over the years for a rational tuition policy," he said.

Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, said Zimpher is doing her best to stave off the potential cuts. "The legislature is negotiating right now over what it's going to restore . . . So, it would be very unusual for SUNY to say, 'Yes, cut me.' Everybody is taking the position that the cuts are going to be too hard to withstand."

The proposed cuts could hit Stony Brook University especially hard, said its president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. He estimated they would amount to a loss to the university of $55 million in 2 1/2 years. That, he said, is about 18 percent of the money provided by Albany.

"I will have to make some tough decisions about what we can afford," Stanley said.

Fearing increased class sizes and reductions in services and student research opportunities, Zimpher said she will "take a serious look" at increasing tuition for out-of-state students if she's allowed to by the legislature, but she doesn't want SUNY schools to be more expensive than other public colleges.

Zimpher and Stanley, who appeared at a Stony Brook forum on sustainability Thursday, urged the legislature to see SUNY as a key to revitalizing the state's economy through research, small-business incubators and partnerships with companies.

With James T. Madore

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