A screenshot of a campus conversation with the university’s Operations Alignment Task Force on Jan. 20. The virtual event discussed strategies to bring in more revenue and improve efficiency. SCREENSHOT OF VIRTUAL CAMPUS CONVERSATION

Stony Brook University wants to avoid downsizing as it considers solutions to its financial troubles, university officials said in a town hall on Jan. 20.  

More than 500 people attended the event, the second in a series of campus conversations centered on the university’s budget in January.

Rose Martinelli, vice president for strategic initiatives, said the university wants to focus on investing in its “competitive strengths,” streamlining work, encouraging collaboration and “finding ways to become more innovative and creative in the work that we do.”

“If you open up the Chronicle [of Higher Education] these days, you hear people cutting programs, jobs, shutting down departments,” Martinelli said. “We’ve chosen to be creative by finding the efficiencies inside creating opportunities for new revenues and really becoming more effective as a university to achieve our ambitions.”

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Colleges and universities across the country are slashing budgets and cutting programs after pandemic-related losses wreaked havoc on their finances. Ohio Wesleyan University is eliminating 18 majors, University of South Florida has eliminated its undergraduate education programs — though not at the graduate level — and the University of Akron in Ohio has laid off 97 unionized faculty members. 

Stony Brook is no exception from these financial woes. President Maurie McInnis estimated in an August update that in the past fiscal year — between refunded fees, lost revenue and additional expenses — the pandemic cost the university $74.6 million on its research and academic campus and an additional $210.8 million in lost revenue and COVID-19 healthcare costs.

Martinelli said she hopes the university will “create a new pathway” without making the “draconian” cuts many other academic institutions have resorted to. There’s no guarantee that positions won’t be cut in the future, she said, but “our hope is really about a different way forward.”

The university is in the third phase of its financial task force timeline, focused on analyzing potential strategies to enhance revenue and reduce costs. Their goal is to identify ways to eliminate costs for services and other expenses at each of its two campuses. 

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One strategy is to reexamine vendor contracts. Carmen Gonzalez, assistant vice president for procurement services, pointed out as an example that the university uses two primary office supply companies — one for each campus — that charge different prices. 

“If we leverage our spend, we could save well over $100,000 a year,” she said.

The task force also wants to optimize technology to improve overall efficiency, improve the human resources process, streamline hiring, go paperless and make it easier for third parties to apply for revocable permits and contracts. 

Though its members are evaluating potential solutions to make the university more solvent, it was emphasized during the town hall that the task force is a “recommending body… not the deciders.”

The fourth phase of the strategic budget initiative is currently scheduled to begin in March, with the final phase ending in April. Slides from Wednesday’s presentation are available here.

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