University advocates stress challenges of budget cuts
By Katie Ellis
Think Green. Think Global. Think Binghamton went on the road to Albany on Tuesday, March 2, as about 120 Binghamton University advocates, including faculty, staff, students, alumni and business partners, met with legislators and other leaders.
Advocates spoke about the quality of the people and students at Binghamton University and SUNY, and voiced their concerns about budget cuts.
"We feel strongly that public higher education is the future and we have an enormous economic impact on our region and the state," President Lois B. DeFleur said. "We are well managed, but if we're not getting more money, we hope the legislature can approve some parts of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act to give us some tools to help us operate better."
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, noted her concerns about the fiscal constraints the state is operating under, but agreed additional cuts to SUNY would be unwise.
"We face anxiety with the budget," she said, "but we have to make sure we don't cut you any more. It's like sending people out to build a house without hammers and nails."
Stavisky said she "is coming around to some of the aspects of the Act and we are looking at parts of the Act where we may have areas of agreement. Some of the procurement issues will help you.
"We’re listening and we are trying, but we're facing very severe cuts and some want to cut more," she said. "We can't do that. We must consider all of the students. They are my constituents."
DeFleur was on a team with United University Professions chapter President Darryl Wood, Associate Professor of Psychology Meredith Coles, junior English major Jessica Falzone, and CSEA Executive Vice President Gary Beach, each providing a unique perspective on what budget reductions have meant to them.
One major impact on Binghamton has been in terms of faculty hiring, Wood said. "Two years ago, we hired about 70 tenure-track faculty, but this past year, we hired only four. We need those people — not only faculty in the classroom — but others who support them."
Coles, who has been at Binghamton since 2003, reinforced the need for resources. As the last hire made in her area, she has to turn away students from her statistics courses, as well as from her research lab.
"My students are exceptional and I receive 40-50 applications for only two undergraduate research positions," she said. "It's a mixed blessing. They're all great students and I want to do more."
Selected as the University's Exemplary Student last fall, Falzone works as a tour guide and is passionate about telling others what an exceptional place it is.
"I love the energy and enthusiasm of all of our students and it's wonderful to take families around campus for them to experience it, too," she said.
Beach summed up many of the points made by the team when he spoke about the infrastructure of the University: its people who are committed to excellence. As a 32-year employee, he said he has seen too many people retire without being replaced.
"We need the tools to keep us going," he said.