March 5, 2004

Lehman Lobbies Albany

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President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 appealed to the New York State Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 5, asking them to reconsider the proposed 2004-2005 executive budget, which includes significant cuts in funding for higher education.

The proposed budget for higher education includes a five percent reduction in unrestricted aid, base operating budget cuts, and a one-third deferral of awards from the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). This may be the second year in a row in which higher education funding could be cut so radically, although the proposal is not as drastic as it was last year. “It would cost $337 million for a full restoration” of this year’s proposed funds cut, said Lauren Carrier, a spokesperson for Assembly member Herman D. Farrell, chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Lehman said he went to Albany to give legislators two messages. He wanted them to know that “higher education is really important to the state” and that within the community of colleges and universities, “excellent higher education has its own special role to play.”

In his address, Lehman stressed Cornell’s role as “an economic actor” in the New York State. He explained that the school brings many people, and therefore a lot of funding, into the state, playing an important part in the state’s economic well being. New York’s system of higher education, he said, “is a powerful magnet that draws human resources and investment capital into the state.”

Lehman spoke of supporting SUNY Chancellor Robert King’s request for a restoration of $50 million to SUNY’s operating budget. This funding would provide for the hiring of new faculty and staff, the purchase of technical equipment, scholarships, and facility maintenance, King said in his address.

King noted that in last year’s cuts to SUNY’s operating support, “the impact was felt most profoundly at the Statutory Colleges at Cornell.”

During the 2003-2004 school year, Cornell students received $5.2 million from TAP, a program Lehman called “a critical component of university financial aid packages.”

Testimony from the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities stated that a 33 percent cut to TAP is equivalent to $302 million. The deferment of awards means that only 17 percent of the tuition of a private four-year college would be covered, compared to 60 percent in the program’s first year of operation, 1974-1975. Legislators suggested the deferral to promote graduation, since students will receive money after their four-year term at college.

Beyond the consequences for student tuition aid programs, budget cuts would result in drastic changes for Cornell Cooperative Extension initiatives, Lehman said. Offices would have to be consolidated and entire programs may have to be stopped. Lehman said he is concerned with “how well we can accomplish our land-grant mission” if extension programs are thus affected.

“The impact [of funding cuts] comes at the margin. It’s in the little things,” Lehman said. Funding cuts could, according to him, create the difference between a really good university and one of the best in the world. “We don’t want to have to choose between being a world leader and being affordable,” he said.

Lehman said that he is optimistic about the final version of the state budget and “[does not] expect the executive budget to be passed as is.” His meeting “really showed that the legislators appreciate Cornell,” he explained.

Carrier echoed his optimism, explaining that it will take a lot of deliberation before the Governor’s office and the Finance and Ways and Means Committees agree on numbers. The three groups all come up with different figures for what a reasonable budget is, then they “begin to negotiate and see if they can reach a consensus on these numbers.” There is no official date for when the budget will finally be passed, and the debates could take months before they are resolved.

Archived article by Melissa Korn