President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. and other top administrators met with the University Senate Monday to discuss a plan to balance Stony Brook University’s nearly $35 million deficit over the next two to three years.
Aside from divulging details about the budget, Stanley was forced to address grievances from various faculty members, many of whom complained that the impending cuts would contradict the university’s alleged commitment to diversity in education.
“I think one thing that we know, that every educational institution knows, is that almost no place can be excellent in all areas,” Stanley said. “We really have to make decisions and set priorities of where we’re going to invest.”
One of the changes being made is a cut to personnel spending, which will likely result in terminations. The plan calls for a three percent decrease in personnel for academic programs and a six percent decrease for administrative units. There will also be a 10 percent reduction across other spending areas.
Stanley stressed the fact that administration would be facing the brunt of the cuts. A broad variety of jobs, including positions in operations and maintenance as well as clerical work, fall under the umbrella of administrative units.
The president urged faculty to use the unfortunate situation as an opportunity to reassess their academic programs. “What are programs that are high quality, that have high demand from students, or are good and can become great? Those are programs we can be invested in. And there may be other programs we can no longer be invested in,” he said.
Various faculty members’ comments drew an emotional response from the crowd of nearly 200. But the standout moment of the afternoon came from Mireille Rebeiz, an assistant professor in the department of world literature, which was formed following the recent downsizing of humanities programs at Stony Brook.
“The most vulnerable among us are from the underrepresented groups,” she said, referring to programs in fine arts and humanities. “If you look at the rate of lecturers, it’s mostly women or people of color… the higher in administration we go, the more white males we have.” Rebeiz’s comments reflected concerns from faculty that those in lower-level teaching positions would be hit the hardest since tenured professors are legally protected against termination.
The audience began to cheer and clap, but Rebeiz was far from finished. “The way I hear it, you used your savings on a swimming pool, on raising your own salary, on ‘Far Beyond.’ Far Beyond what?” she asked, mocking the university’s newest branding campaign.
Rebeiz stood up and left the room in frustration after the president failed to respond to her comment, which was met with thunderous applause from the audience.
Stanley kept his head down for the majority of the meeting, both literally and figuratively, standing on the far left side of the room, his hands tightly clasped. Although he often deferred to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Robert Megna and Provost Michael Bernstein, one of Stanley’s most direct answers came in response to a criticism that cuts to faculty teaching various topics in world literature was counterintuitive to other measures being made to promote diversity, including the appointment of a chief diversity officer.
“It’s difficult when one gets down to the areas of teaching, to me, to say that we’re going to keep one area and not another area just based purely on content. I think we really have to make decisions based on enrollment, based on scholarly impact,” Stanley said, immediately after reiterating the university’s commitment to diversity.
Although Megna identified several causes behind Stony Brook’s current budget woes, the primary reason seemed to be the end of the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program. The plan, passed by the state legislature in 2011, provided $140 million in grants across four SUNY schools, including Stony Brook. This allowed the university to hire around 240 new faculty members, and make sizable investments in infrastructure and student advising.
“The challenge when you invest in any situation is that you face the possibility that revenue will decline,” Stanley said. In Stony Brook’s case, this is exactly what happened.
The approval of a five-year predictable tuition plan following the end of SUNY 2020 capped tuition hikes at $200 per year, $100 less than the years prior, according to a presentation distributed to Senate members. This amounts to a loss of around $2.6 million for the first year, Stanley said. Additionally, an agreement between the legislature and the SUNY system will ensure that tuition rates remain flat for the 2017-18 school year, further decreasing revenue.
Mandatory pay increases for state employees will also pose a threat to the the budget, since these raises are no longer factored into the state’s annual allocation for SUNY schools. “Stony Brook now has to pay that increase,” Stanley said. “So a two percent increase, which is about what they’ve been over the past few years, translates to about eight to nine million dollars in additional costs.”
Despite his attempts to frame the issue in the best possible light, this was not enough to win over the sympathies of much of the audience.
As Rebeiz wrapped up her final statement before exiting the room, the faculty’s collective exasperation became abundantly clear. “I moved my family here from Ohio and the only thing you have to tell me is that I’m not essential to the mission of the university? That I have no role to play and you have no commitment to me and your reputation will be fine? That is shameful.”
Update: An earlier version of this story did not define the terms “underrepresented groups” or “administrative units.” This article has since been updated to better explain these terms as well as provide greater context regarding tenure rules.