February 1, 2011

Contract Colleges May Lose 12 Percent of State Funding

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Correction appended

Cornell is expected to lose over 12 percent of statutory college funding after Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed fiscal year 2011-12 budget Tuesday, announcing the state “is functionally bankrupt.”

In the fourth consecutive budget that proposes major cuts, Cornell is projected to forgo $15.4 million in aid, which will reduce the total amount the University receives to $121 million; last year, Cornell received $136 million. According to the Executive Budget Briefing Book, the state plans to cut another $15 million from Cornell in the following year.

The budget proposal reflects a total decrease of more than 26 percent in Cornell’s state aid over the last four years. In 2007, the University received more than $165 million from the state, according to Zoe Nelson, state legislative associate at Cornell’s Albany Office of State Government Relations.

The University will have less than five months to prepare for this financial shortfall before the budget takes effect July 1. Although the State Assembly needs to approve the budget, it is “unlikely” that they will restore any funding to higher education, Nelson said.

The four contract colleges — College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Human Ecology, School of Industrial and Labor Relations and College of Veterinary Medicine — will “inevitably bear more of the burden” than the endowed colleges, Vice Provost Ronald Seeber said. The four colleges receive substantial state aid and, in return, offer reduced tuition for in-state residents.

“We’re at a time when we’re renegotiating our relationship with the state of New York,” Seeber said, adding that he does not expect the the state’s funding to return to its previous levels in the near future.

“This is a permanent reduction in our base,” Seeber said. With a greater reliance on tuition fees and alumni donations, the fiscal model for the statutory colleges will increasingly resemble the endowed colleges at Cornell, he added.

“The users or students pay more, the state provides less and private donations try to make up the hole,” Seeber said.

Alternative revenue sources are “unlikely” to substitute for the governor’s cuts, which would result in a grim forecast for reduced services and further layoffs, Nelson said.

“Structurally, you can’t say it won’t affect the types of [course] offerings at the statutory colleges,” Seeber said. Decisions regarding “laying off faculty or making class sizes larger” will be left for the contract colleges’ deans, the vice provost added.

Most administrators contacted declined to comment on the cuts due to the delicacy of pending budget negotiations. CALS Dean Kathryn Boor, Human Ecology Dean Alan Mathios and ILR Dean Harry Katz all deferred questions to Seeber.

The tuition increases may also hinder efforts to bolster socioeconomic diversity on campus, as “tuition at in-state colleges is less and less of a bargain each year,” Seeber said.

The proposed budget cuts come at the heels of last week’s announcement by the Board of Trustees that tuition would increase almost 4.8 percent, following a 4.5-percent rise the year before.

“The timing between the Trustee’s approval of the financial plan in anticipation of the state’s major cuts  and the announcement of the two is coincidental,” Seeber said.

The budget news portends even more cuts at Cornell, following the dissolution of the Department of Education, cuts in the math department, and severe crippling of the theater, film and dance programs.

“Our employment base at the University as a whole is significantly smaller,” Seeber said. “We’ve made many permanent cuts.”

The budget shortfall comes at a time of fiscal austerity as state governments nationwide are making drastic cuts to higher education.

The governor’s budget, totaling $132.9 billion, outlined a 9-percent cut in state aid, worth $138 million to the State University of New York system, which includes 47 four-year colleges. The City University of New York will likely lose 5 percent of its funding, or $37 million. Additionally, the budget slashes $135 million for SUNY’s teaching hospitals.

In total, the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget proposes $78.9 million of state funding for Cornell’s statutory colleges and $42.1 million for the land-grant program.

Aside from higher education, Cuomo proposed a series of major cuts on Medicaid, school aid, and other public services. He estimated there may be 10,000 layoffs, according to The New York Times.

The budget proposes virtually no tax increases and Cuomo is expected to face fierce resistance with the politically unpopular  cuts.

Locally, the City of Ithaca lost $53,273 out of $2.6 million in state aid, according to the Ithaca Journal.

Seeber insisted Cuomo “has advanced plans to deal with the structural deficit in New York If the state and nation’s economy grow, we’ll grow out of this problem.”

Until then, Cornell students will grapple with an unprecedented and severe economic climate. “Obviously, you guys are bearing a significant part of that burden,” Seeber said of students.

According to Seeber, the deans of the contract colleges along with Day Hall “had plans for something of a reduction of this magnitude … as each statutory dean has a portion of the cut to which they need to respond.”

“We knew that there were cuts coming but we didn’t know how much they would be until today,” Nelson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the budget cuts come after layoffs in the math Ph.D. department. In fact, the cuts come after the University eliminated four of its seven assistant professor positions in the math department.

Original Author: Max Schindler