Stony Brook University has made great strides as a research university with a strong reputation in STEM fields. But it and other SUNY schools struggle with a problem beyond their control — the state no longer lives up to an unwritten agreement that it will cover salary increases negotiated by the state.
This practice has hurt Stony Brook more than most campuses, because the school aggressively hired new faculty during the five years when the state’s SUNY 2020 funding plan provided reasonable and steady tuition increases. But there was no increase last year and only a $200 hike this year while state aid remained flat. Now Stony Brook has an $18 million deficit, necessitating a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, the state is negotiating with faculty on a new contract to replace the one that expired in 2015.
Stony Brook must also cut costs. Professors not doing research should teach, reducing the need for adjuncts. It can offer retirement incentives. But the state needs to do its share, especially with new and retroactive salary increases on the way. And there are ways the state can help schools like Stony Brook and Buffalo — such as matching funds awarded by foundations and federal grants, insisting that research professors use these grant funds to pay for their replacements in the classroom, and permitting the schools to charge higher tuition and fees for students seeking much-in-demand masters degrees in engineering.
Stony Brook does a good job delivering high-quality education to working-class students, and is among the nation’s leaders in taking students from the bottom fifth of the economic ladder to the top fifth. As they hammer out next year’s budget, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature should make sure that success story, at Stony Brook and elsewhere in SUNY, continues to unfold.