In a joint memo on Nov. 7 addressed to Binghamton University faculty and staff, University President Harvey Stenger and Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, spoke out on the University’s recent fiscal challenges and revealed new financial plans for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.
The memo comes just two months after Stenger’s annual State of the University address and speaks to the University’s difficulties in generating revenue to cover the new United University Professions (UUP) contract that was negotiated between the State University of New York (SUNY) and UUP, a higher education union for faculty, professional staff, contingent employees and retirees of the SUNY system.
The six-year contract, which began on July 2, 2016, will last until July 1, 2022. Although the contract officially began in 2016, it was only signed by SUNY this past summer. The new contract stipulates faculty and staff will receive a 2 percent increase in pay, which will be applied retroactively for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years and in coming years — a cost of $12 million for the 2018-19 academic year and roughly $4 million per year in the future. According to Mike Lisi, director of communications for UUP in Albany, the previous contract was extended by two years because both UUP and SUNY needed time to negotiate an agreement.
“A group of UUP leaders, selected by UUP President Fred Kowal, represented the UUP during negotiations; they were UUP’s negotiations team,” Lisi wrote in an email. “The state had its own team of people at the table, and those groups agreed on the new contract that was ratified by UUP members. The state agreed to every part of UUP’s new contract; the contract could not have gone to a ratification vote without the state agreeing to all terms in the agreement.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the tentative agreement in May 2018; however, according to Ryan Yarosh, BU’s senior director of media and public relations, the University didn’t know for certain if the state would cover the negotiated raises until the legislative session ended in June.
Nieman wrote in an email that the state didn’t cover the raises included in the previous contract, which ran from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016, but did for the one before that, from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011.
“We didn’t know whether the raises included in the current contract would be covered,” Nieman wrote. “As a result, we developed a plan to increase revenue by growing enrollment. We were successful in generating some additional revenue to help us cover the raises, but we fell short of the amount we needed to close the gap.”
Despite the University’s efforts to increase graduate enrollment, BU is currently struggling to find revenue to cover the back pay and raises stipulated by the new contract.
“That we fell short in generating sufficient additional revenue to cover the raises is a result of the size of financial obligation we must assume this year and a very difficult climate for recruitment of graduate students,” Yarosh said.
To cover the $12 million in back pay for this year, the University intends to use its reserves; however, it will need to come up with a sustainable revenue model for the future. According to Stenger’s Dateline announcement, the University is looking to generate money to cover future years by creating a task force to promote enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate programs.
Additionally, three groups led by University officials will aim to pinpoint alternate revenue sources, including capitalizing on online education and property investments, such as the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator and the Smart Energy Building in the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC).
Attempts to accrue funding will also be accompanied by efforts to save money. University Libraries face a 4 percent budget cut for next year, and the University is implementing a hiring freeze, which includes all leadership searches. The only exception to the freeze will be teaching assistants and adjunct professors.
There will also be a pause on University Initiatives implemented through Stenger’s Road Map Renewal process, including the development of the health sciences campus and the planned expansion of health sciences core facilities, though the construction projects in Johnson City for these programs will continue. According to Stenger, if enrollment and revenue goals are met, those initiatives will be reconsidered in fall 2019.
According to Nieman, it is likely the SUNY Board of Trustees will also approve another tuition increase of $200 per year to create more revenue to help the University cover the salary raises. In previous years, in-state tuition has increased by about 2 percent each year, and for the 2018-19 academic year, resident tuition increased by $100. The University will also seek to attract more out-of-state and international students, as they pay far more money than New York state residents do to attend BU.
Additionally, the University may increase fees; however, it will have to gain approval from SUNY to do so.
Kowal wrote in an email that the SUNY system must improve its strategy in requesting more funding so the burden of the increases does not lay on campuses.
“SUNY needs to be more aggressive in advocating for more funding,” Kowal wrote. “Every year, UUP advocates meet with their state legislators to push initiatives like more funding for SUNY, hiring more full-time faculty and transparency regarding SUNY’s campus foundations and its research foundation. We’ve had great support from the SUNY Student Assembly.”
According to Austin Ostro, chief of staff for the SUNY Student Assembly, the state is forcing SUNY campuses to cut other services to cover the new contract.
“Campuses are responsible for the 2 percent retroactive pay upfront, and then the 2 percent raise continues in perpetuity, [so] campuses are responsible for paying both the retroactive and perpetual raises,” Ostro wrote in an email. “We support SUNY faculty getting the raise, but want the state to cover the costs so that campuses don’t have to make sacrifices to other services in order to pay for the raise.”
Although the contract is already signed and the University will have to find the money somewhere, Sean Massey, president of the UUP chapter at BU and associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, said New York state indicated it could pay for the raises when it signed the new contract with UUP, and for the state to not allocate money to cover these expenses was irresponsible.
“We sign a contract, but what they’re saying is we’ll agree to pay you this amount for the work you provide — it’s as simple as that,” Massey said. “Now, if management is negotiating in good faith, they are offering to pay money they can pay. So for them to say somehow we don’t have the money to pay means they weren’t negotiating in good faith.”
Sasha Hupka and Amy Donovan contributed reporting to this article.