The Student Walkout and Teach-in, set for Tuesday, March 8, comes in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget outlines dramatic cuts in Medicaid, education, and state operations, currently calling for a 10 percent reduction in state financing to SUNY. Gov. Cuomo has proposed these cuts, which are poised to allocate $400 million toward plugging the state’s $10 billion budget gap, as an alternative to imposing a hike in student tuition.
As showcased by the walkout, the governor’s proposal isn’t sitting well with many in the SUNY community. Among the key concerns are dealing with budget cuts without eliminating personnel or terminating entire departments.
Donald Christian, interim president at SUNY New Paltz, acknowledges that if the governor’s budget passes in its current form, the impacts of the school’s ability to provide the fullest educational opportunities to students will be negatively affected.
“With the finalization of the governor’s budget, as proposed, we would almost certainly see cuts in programs, an increase in class sizes and less flexibility and choices in class schedules for students,” said Christian.
Though Christian appreciates the governor’s concern about tuition and affordability, he says that, as the SUNY leadership consistently points out, SUNY tuition is already very low by national and state standards.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher has argued for a five-year plan that would raise tuition by regular, modest amounts, as opposed to implement massive program cuts, coupled with the occasional tuition spike.
Lingering over this SUNY debate is the question of whether SUNY schools should have the ability to set their own tuition prices.
“The governor should get this out of the hands of politicians and allow for SUNY schools to make these financial decisions themselves,” said Jerry Smith, a second-year political science major at SUNY New Paltz.
Smith says the governor should advocate for a more balanced mixture of both tuition increases and budget cuts. Other students, however, argue that neither should be imposed.
“I actually reject how this whole debate is being framed by the media and politicians,” declared Jeff Fonda, former Vice President of Student Association at SUNY New Paltz. “There are many alternatives out there to raising tuition or cutting university budgets at all.”