Passing on a communication from Brett Bowles, a colleague at SUNY Albany, explaining how a deceptive "faculty consultation" set-piece served to give a veneer of respectability to the admin's fait accompli. The difference between Bowles's clear and impassioned writing and the mealy-mouthed admin-speak of the Albany president (attached below) is instructive. He and his colleagues deserve support from all concerned with higher education. Links for protest emails and letters can be found at the bottom of this post from Sunday.
Below is the official announcement explaining the rationale for the program eliminations sent to all faculty and students by [SUNY Albany President] George Philip on Friday. As you'll see the announcement of the program eliminations is in paragraph 15 and reads as follows: "This decision was based on an extensive consultative process with faculty, and in recognition that there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs."
The phrase "extensive consultative process with faculty" is of course vague and open to interpretation. Let me clarify the degree to which the faculty in the eliminated programs (French, Italian, Russian, Classics, and Theater) were consulted.
The specific recommendations for program eliminations were made by a series of three ad-hoc groups, known as Budget Advisory Groups (BAGS). These groups were composed of faculty members whose participation was solicited individually by CAS Dean Edelgard Wulfert. No members of the eliminated programs received invitations to participate in any of the BAGS. At no point prior to Friday, October 1 was any member of the eliminated programs notified what recommendations the BAGS had made or given a chance to respond. We were simply presented with an accomplished fact. Our first knowledge of the program eliminations came at a face-to-face meeting with Edelgard Wulfert, Provost Susan Phillips, and university legal counsel William Hedberg. Each program being eliminated was convened separately. Despite the fact that French, Italian and Russian are all housed in a single administrative unit, the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, our department chair (a professor of French Studies) was not invited to the meetings with Italian or Russian faculty.
With regard to the timing of the cuts, there is compelling evidence that the decision had already been made long before October 1 and was kept secret until the most opportune moment for the administration. On September 10 we in the department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (home to French, Italian, and Russian) were informed that our office phone lines were to be disconnected in order to save money. It should also be noted that the University at Albany just completed a crucial re-accreditation process via the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the unit of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools that accredits colleges and universities in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The presence of foreign-language teaching is (was) an important component of this re-accreditation, which was formally granted in late September, only days prior to the announcement of program eliminations.
In light of the evidence presented above, I and many of my faculty colleagues feel morally betrayed by our administration and deprived of due process. We were not informed that our programs were slated for elimination or given a chance to propose reforms for saving them. We all understand the severity of the budget cuts and are all willing to make changes necessary to save money, but we were never given that opportunity.
These program eliminations by presidential directive, without input from the affected faculty or students, will likely set a precedent at both UAlbany and throughout the SUNY system, for handling subsequent budget cuts. The termination of French, Russian, Italian, Classics, and Theater will thus open the door for terminating other degree programs with "comparatively fewer students enrolled," as George Philip notes in his message. In fact, there are five other degree programs on campus that have lower total enrollments or lower student-to-full-time faculty ratios than the eliminated programs. Data proving this claim is readily available from the tracking software used by the registrar's office. Will these programs be eliminated next?
As entire programs disappear, the University at Albany will quickly cease to be a comprehensive, liberal arts university. It will no longer be able to fulfill its mission as a SUNY "research center" alongside Buffalo, Stony Brook, and Binghamton. It will no longer offer as wide a range of undergraduate degrees as many of the four-year SUNY undergraduate colleges.
These program eliminations have shaken my faith, and that of many of my faculty colleagues, in the University at Albany, yet we remain committed to working with our administrators to solving budgetary problems without terminating entire programs of study, a decision that deprives our students of the broadest possible choices for their education, undermines our comprehensive, liberal arts curriculum, and violates the university's stated mission of "putting the world within reach" of our students and the state of New York.
Message from George Philip, President of UAlbany Sent October 1, 2010
Dear Members of the Campus Community:
This afternoon, I held a Town Hall meeting to inform the campus community of some of the difficult "next steps" the University at Albany will be taking to address its ongoing budget challenges. If you were unable to attend this meeting given the unfortunate timing, please understand that the decision to deliver this message on a Friday afternoon was not our preferred choice. It was necessary due to the limited availability of appropriate large venue options - particularly, since the Campus Center is undergoing renovation.
For those unable to join us today, I want to take this opportunity to share with you my message. This year's State Budget reduced the level of State assistance to our campus by nearly $12 million. In fact, over the past three years, the campus has cumulatively suffered more than $33.5 million in State tax support reductions - more than a 30% decline. Since 2008, we have addressed these reductions to our revenue base through the elimination of approximately 200 vacant lines resulting from resignations and retirements, a soft-hiring freeze, reductions in non-personal expenditures and temporary service, reductions in graduate student support, a moratorium on non-essential travel, energy savings, operational efficiencies and more.
As I have said many times before, non-strategic and opportunistic short-term measures are simply not compatible with operating an organization on a sustainable basis. In the face of diminishing State support, these types of cuts are a clear pathway to mediocrity. It remains critically important for the University to rethink and rebalance its core academic and research mission given its reduced revenue base, and reallocate resources accordingly.
As late as August, we remained hopeful that passage of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, including predictable and rational tuition in the future, would be adopted. If adopted as originally proposed, this landmark reform, coupled with sustained state assistance, would have helped us to address our current budgetary challenges, while at the same time, provide our campus with the tools and resources necessary to advance our academic enterprise. Regrettably, neither financial nor regulatory relief were enacted during the 2010 Legislative session.
As you may know, over the past several years, we have engaged the University community in numerous discussions about the principles that should guide budget-related decisions. I am most grateful for the perspectives and guidance provided by the Budget Advisory Groups I, II, and III, along with the University-wide strategic planning committee.
Like several other SUNY campuses, the University is now at a point where we must analyze, evaluate and consider implementing measures that reallocate resources and eliminate some existing programs. Such actions will potentially affect a number of units across the campus.
As we enter this period of further communication and dialogue, the University anticipates that the actions discussed today will unfold over a two-year period. By the end of 2012, we expect that the equivalent of another 160 full time positions will be eliminated - bringing the campus total to over 360 positions eliminated over the four-year period starting in 2008. To the extent possible, it is our sincere hope and intention to minimize the disruption across the University by achieving the majority of the reductions through attrition resulting from the early retirement incentive program, voluntary resignations and other future vacancies. Notwithstanding these efforts, by the end of this process, I regret that involuntary terminations of employment will be unavoidable.
It is important to underscore that administrative and support units have and will continue to shoulder a higher percentage of the cost savings measures adopted, which is consistent with the University's priority of protecting the academic mission. Based on what we know now, in this fiscal year and next, administrative units will absorb an additional 10% reduction in their state operating budgets, while colleges and schools will experience an additional 7% reduction. Over the four-year period ending in 2012, administrative units will have suffered a reduction in their state operating budgets of nearly 22.4%, while colleges and schools will have realized a 16.2% reduction. Of the reductions between 2008-2012, we anticipate that nearly three-quarters of the workforce actions will relate to professional and support staff, while the remaining will be faculty positions. These disproportionate reductions are consistent and in line with the values, advice and guidance I have received from the campus advisory groups previously mentioned.
In addition to job losses already incurred, our administrative and support units are being forced to implement additional budget actions that have and will continue to result in reductions in hours of service operations, diminished employee and student services university-wide, cutbacks in general operational and physical plant support, and more.
It is important to note that every possible effort is being made to ensure that the health and safety of our campus community is not compromised.
Once again, we are striving to manage future reductions in ways that will mitigate the impact on our existing employees. The University is also exploring administrative consolidations, ITS efficiencies, as well as conducting a comprehensive review of the expenditures associated with our athletics program in order to achieve additional savings.
Unfortunately, these efforts in the administrative and extra-curricular areas are by themselves not enough. The University's academic program will be further impacted. The Provost and Deans from each of the schools and colleges have been working closely over the past two years to consider and implement reduction scenarios as our fiscal challenges worsened. I am sure all of the faculty have observed and felt the impact of these changes as professional conference support has dried up, academic support services have diminished, assistantships have declined, some departments have become smaller, and class sizes have become larger. Many program changes are already underway to accommodate the current resource picture. No school or college has been exempt from these reductions, and some areas have in fact borne more of the burden only because of the opportunistic way in which the cuts had to be managed in the short term.
Going forward, Provost Phillips and I will continue to work with the Deans, Chairs, and applicable governance bodies to sustain the University's capacity to offer strong academic programs in areas of high student demand. In addition to the program changes already underway, we now must begin consideration of further actions, given the requirements of the academic calendar and the cycles associated with student and faculty recruitment.
As a first step in this more difficult phase of reallocation planning, I have issued a directive today to suspend all new admissions to five program areas - Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theatre. Provost Phillips and Dean Wulfert met earlier today with the faculty in each of these program areas to communicate this action and begin a discussion about the future. This decision was based on an extensive consultative process with faculty, and in recognition that there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs.
It is important to recognize that this action is by no means a reflection about the quality of the faculty appointed to these programs, or frankly about the value of these subjects to the liberal arts. They are and continue to be valued scholars and colleagues. The University will continue to offer a broad array of arts and humanities courses in its curriculum.
We have also taken steps in preparation for the final year of Project Renaissance - the student living learning community for first-year students. I have asked the University Senate to provide consultation to me on further action with regard to all of these program areas.
I am mindful that the identification of these specific programs makes it appear that the College of Arts and Sciences is bearing a disproportionate reduction. I want to assure you that larger reductions across the other schools and colleges are being addressed, but simply in different ways. I have asked the Provost to begin the process of initiating other program consolidations and efficiencies. While the magnitude of the reduction requires significant participation from all units, our approach will continue to be derived from the advice and guidance of each of the Budget Advisory processes: to be strategic and differentiated with a view towards the future and the goals articulated in our Strategic Plan.
In taking these actions, I also want to share with you two important principles that the University will uphold. First, the University remains fully committed to ensuring that all our students will have an opportunity to complete the specific major/program to which they have already been admitted. Equally important, the campus is committed to supporting faculty and staff impacted by resource reallocation and program decisions by providing opportunities to seek placement at another UAlbany program, to explore placement at another SUNY campus, if available, and/or to pursue retraining, where required.
As a point of clarification, I want to remind the campus community that there is a distinct difference between capital and operating funds and how they can be used. In recent months, you have noticed there is a significant level of capital construction taking place on campus. It is important to realize that State of New York prohibits SUNY campuses from using SUNY capital funding for operating related expenses, such as faculty and staff. This type of funding can ONLY be used for capital construction and improvement, as well as large equipment purchases.
Lastly, I have apprised the University Council of the campus's budget situation, and have fully reviewed with them the actions and the next steps the University intends on taking. Our Council members support us with confidence that UAlbany will continue to be nationally recognized as a center of excellence for education, research, and service.
Please be assured that I will continue to keep you informed of future developments. I also invite you to visit the Budget Update webpage on the University's MyUAlbany portal.
Once again, thank you for your dedication and support of the University at Albany.
George M. Philip,