Last week, Pipe Dream published an article headlined “The President Stands Trial.” This week, our verdict is in: not guilty.
University President Harvey Stenger was unexpectedly hit with a barrage of questions and comments at a forum on racism on campus last Wednesday, and it got heated. Students primarily addressed the potentially discriminatory nature of university policies and state-wide tuition hikes, but even Stenger’s salary was brought up in the discussion.
The three main concerns were this: cuts to the Clark Graduate Fellowship for Diversity, increased focus on STEM programs, which typically under-represent minority groups, and NYSUNY 2020.
Stenger responded in a letter to the editor, and after doing our research, we agree with him that his accusers may have jumped to conclusions too hastily.
The cuts to the Clark Graduate Fellowship were misunderstood, because they aren’t exactly cuts. The Graduate School will not be offering fellowships this year, but not due to intentional racism or discrimination. Rather, the retention rate of the program at present means that some Clark Fellows must complete their degrees in order to continue to fund new students the competitive program. Susan Strehle, interim dean of the Graduate School, has said that eight or nine fellowships will likely be offered next year. She added that SUNY funding for the program has not changed over the past few years, and possibly “not for decades,” so the program isn’t growing, but neither does it seem to be shrinking.
While it is problematic that minorities are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math, steps are being taken to increase enrollment of minorities in STEM programs, and a focus on STEM can only benefit the University in the long run. Increased funding for viable and employable fields means the University is doing more research, bringing in the best faculty and garnering national attention. And hey, if this means our alumni can get jobs and give back to the school, it will help students in the future too.
Finally the issue with NYSUNY 2020, according to complainants at the forum, was that because it includes a “rational tuition increase” for all SUNY students, it could preclude low-income applicants from coming to Binghamton. Yes, tuition will increase — $300 per year for in-state students, and $1,340 per year for out-of-state students — but there’s more to the story.
First, tuition would have likely gone up either way. The main difference is that under the “rational tuition” program, the increases are predictable and the additional revenue goes directly to the University. Previously, the legislature would raise tuition whenever the state’s coffers began to run dry and the money would go to the state, not the school.
Second, NYSUNY 2020 has little to do with Stenger, or Binghamton University policies, and it was the smartest decision to make given the situation.
The SUNY-wide grant program, created in response to $90 million budget cuts by former Governor Patterson, was announced before Stenger took office, and it may actually help low-income students — according to the grant proposal, “Binghamton University will commit 25 percent of the additional tuition revenue to provide scholarships for the most economically-disadvantaged students and provide revenue for TAP support and scholarships.”
And though much of the grant funding is going toward STEM-based research facilities and programs, as addressed above, that doesn’t mean other areas won’t benefit as well. Provost Nieman said that new professors have been hired in nearly every department, including humanities, social sciences, management and human development. Most of these new hires will be on tenure track, which indicates that they will be doing research on behalf of their departments, and are making long-term commitments to the growth of the University.
The main goals of NYSUNY 2020 are hiring new faculty, increasing enrollment and reducing student-to-faculty ratios, and this gives more opportunities to more people for a better education.
The fact that Stenger attended the forum in the first place and was willing to address the issues brought up head on is commendable.