Stony Brook University has a history of budget deficits and attempts to overcome them. This is part of the job of the administration: to adapt the amount of tuition and grant funding to provide the best education possible. That’s why I willingly pay the tuition and fees to attend this school. I value the results and rankings of Stony Brook, thanks to its superior education, and I consider it to be more than worth the price I pay to attend.
Faced with a $35 million deficit, the administration is taking drastic measures. The College of Arts and Sciences is merging the European languages, literatures & cultures, the Hispanic languages & literature and the cultural studies & comparative literature departments into the department of comparative world literature. It is suspending admission to the undergraduate degree programs in theatre arts, cinema & cultural studies, comparative literature, adapted aquatics and pharmacology, and is suspending admissions into the graduate degree programs in cultural studies and comparative literature.
When asked about the budget deficit at the media roundtable last semester, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said that the budgetary actions taken “will get us to a balanced budget in about 2 and a half years, I think, roughly.”
When that timeline was brought up at this semester’s media roundtable, Stanley said, “That’s my hope and that was my hope at that time. I think we’re not making progress as fast as I would like.”
Stanley said that by not filling all the job vacancies that are created by the cuts in Stony Brook and by increasing the sizes of certain classes, more money would be saved.
“But our percent rate of attrition has been lower in the past year than has been traditional,” Stanley said. “So where we might expect to see 3 to 6 percent in some areas we’re about 1.5 percent. So if that continues, then attrition alone is not enough to solve the budget problem.”
Many of these decisions make sense. It’s better to cut out programs with fewer students than sacrifice a bit of every department. But Stony Brook’s academic reputation should not be sacrificed for the sake of balance.
Stony Brook is one of the best colleges in the U.S. for promoting upward mobility, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. It ranks 32 on Kiplinger’s list of Best Values in Public Colleges and 147 on Kiplinger’s list among all colleges.
Firing tenure-track professors does nothing positive for those rankings. Not negotiating with Stony Brook University’s chapters of the United University Professions union for 20 months doesn’t help either. Neither will implementing a hiring freeze.
How many fewer possible professors will accept teaching positions at Stony Brook because they have to worry that they won’t get a fair chance at tenure? How can professors be expected to dedicate their lives to scholarship if their jobs are not secure?
How will the intellectual climate at Stony Brook fare if no new professors are hired? The percentage of women in non-tenure-track faculty has increased to 51.2 percent and in tenure-track faculty to 30.5 percent in 2016 according to a report by the Stony Brook Office of Institutional Research, Planning & Effectiveness (IRPE). Another IRPE report shows that the percentage of white faculty has decreased to 68.8 percent in 2016 from 79.5 percent in 2006. A more equal proportion of female and minority faculty augments the university’s ability to teach students because it increases the diversity of perpectives on campus. By refusing to hire more professors, the administration is accepting the status quo of faculty diversity.
There are many creative ways the school could save money. They could cancel the December commencement. Administrators could reduce their own salaries as a way to show solidarity with the university’s economic stress. I’m not smart enough to figure out how the Stony Brook Foundation figures into this but there has to be something there. According to its mission page, “It exists to advance the goals and strategic plan of Stony Brook University by raising and managing private funds on the University’s behalf.” The foundation reported $482,347,876 of total assets in 2017.
There are not going to be easy answers. Budget problems are not solved overnight. Drastic measures have been and will continue to be taken, but efforts must be made to localize and reduce the damage so that the university can emerge minimally scathed.
Stony Brook didn’t stagnate as it overcame its last budgetary deficit. It shouldn’t now.