January 29, 2012

Cuomo Proposes Sparing Univ. From Cuts, Bucking Recent Trend

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Bucking a recent trend of plummeting state aid to the University, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposed 2012-13 executive budget will preserve funding for Cornell’s contract colleges. His proposal, released Jan. 17, must still be approved by the New York State Legislature in March.

If passed, New York will allocate $120.2 million to Cornell’s contract colleges — only slightly less than last year’s amount, according to Charles Kruzansky, assistant vice president in the Office of State Government Relations.

State funding for the University’s contract colleges — the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the College of Human Ecology; the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; and the College of Veterinary Medicine — has plummeted about 27 percent since 2007, from $165 million to $120 million last year, according to Ronald Seeber, vice provost for land grant affairs.

Each year, the state allocates a general fund to Cornell, and the money is then subdivided among the contract colleges by the central administration.

Max Pfeffer, senior associate dean of CALS, said that the State’s decision to retain funding levels is a cause for optimism. CALS receives about 13.6 percent of itsbudget, or $47 million, from the state.

“We [at CALS] are feeling pretty good. Budgets didn’t increase this year, but they stayed level and that was a vote of confidence,” he said. “We feel pretty confident that things will be better in years to come.”

However, Harry Katz, dean of ILR, said he does not expect state allocations to the University to increase.

“I wish I could be hopeful that [state funding] will grow, but it seems unlikely,” he said. “Cuomo has said that he will hold the dollar amount flat, and there is no indication he will grow the appropriation. The best we can hope for is a flat appropriation.”

According to Kruzansky, this year’s allocation met expectations. New York funds Cornell’s contract colleges through the State University of New York system, which includes more than 40 colleges.

“Last year, [Cuomo] put out the offer that we’ll do a cut to higher education, including SUNY schools, but [for the 2012-13 budget] there would be a tuition increase and, in return, he would not put out a budget that cut the budget for higher education,” Kruzansky said.

Kruzansky said the unchanged appropriations reflect Cuomo’s priorities for reducing the state budget.

“This governor has tried to focus on trimming big spending,” he said. “Cuomo scrutinized big spending programs and higher education is not one of those programs.”

Despite an increase in tuition and no budget cuts, Pfeffer cautioned that the downsizing over the past few years within CALS was permanent.

“Because of the cuts over the past few years, our budget is quite constrained, and we have had to downsize our staff and adjust our programs to adjust to these reduced budgets,” he said.  “The cuts that we have implemented over the past few years have been permanent cuts.”

Over the past few years, CALS has eliminated the Department of Education, consolidated various programs and reduced support for itstechnical staff in research laboratories, according to Pfeffer.

ILR has not been immune to cuts, either. The school has streamlined administrative processes, eliminated 50 middle-management and support positions and pruned extension programs to reduce costs.

Over the past 12 years, state funding for the ILR school has dropped from $12 million to $7.9 million.

Both CALS and ILR, however, are looking to hire new faculty members for the 2013-14 academic year as part of a University-wide faculty renewal initiative.

“We are very aggressively hiring faculty right now, so we are putting a lot of resources into bringing new faculty on to campus,” Pfeffer said. “We have 21 searches going on right now and these are searches responding to needs identified by departments.”

ILR will hire three faculty members who will start teaching next semester, according to Katz.

As state funding has declined, ILR, CALS and Cornell’s Land Grant Program — outreach and research initiatives created to benefit New York State — have turned to alternate revenue streams. All three have increasingly relied on contracts with private institutions, the federal government and state agencies to supplement their revenue and tuition.

“The main way our budget for research will increase is by the success of our faculty in acquiring grants,” Pfeffer said. “We have seen a real uptick in the amount of grant submission our faculty are doing … and they have been successful in that as well.”

While ILR professors have pursued research aggressively as well, the college has also worked to increase its endowment through donations.

“Individual research has brought money to the college,” Katz said. “But we have also had success in the campaigning; we have increased contributions from the annual fund.”

The Land Grant Program — which received about $50 million from the state and “substantially more” from other sources in fiscal year 2011-12 — has suffered program consolidation and personnel downsizing since 2007. However, it has endured because of an increasing dependence on private contracting, according to Seeber.

“I am optimistic in that I think the bottom has been reached,” Seeber said. “I don’t think there will be any more immediate cuts, but I don’t think there will be any immediate [increase of] funds either.”

Pfeffer said he remains confident that the University’s contract colleges will continue to grow in the coming years, in part due to increased state financial support.

“Higher education has become a cornerstone for economic development upstate,” Pfeffer said. “There has been concerted effort on our part and by SUNY to demonstrate just how higher education spurs economic growth and ensures economic vitality.”

Kruzansky, however, said he still has reservations.

“It all depends on the economy,” he said.

Original Author: Justin Rouillier

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