After contract negotiations between SUNY and United University Professions (UUP) left Binghamton University in a budgetary crisis, administrators have struggled with ways to fill the gap in revenue needed to cover faculty and staff raises in upcoming years. BU’s administration has implemented a hiring freeze and cut budgets, and at the state level, SUNY has increased tuition by $200, the maximum amount legally allowable. Now, University leaders are looking at a new effort to resolve the University’s financial challenges: a new decentralized budget process.
According to the summer 2019 quarterly report issued by BU President Harvey Stenger, the new plan is a “decentralized budgeting process that holds the schools and departments responsible for meeting their budgetary targets.” In other words, each department in BU will now be able to redeploy resources to handle the salary gaps within their own budgets, a move that allows each department to decide where they need to cut funding to provide the professors with their promised raises. In the Office of Academic Affairs, the process will look a little different. In an effort to avoid more cuts, the University is tasking the office with stimulating graduate enrollment, which administrators hope will generate enough income to cover the raises. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s the best shot the University has at recovering from the blow of the state failing to provide money for the deal they signed.
The push for these changes came from the contract the SUNY system signed with UUP in 2018, which stipulates that the stagnant salaries of BU’s professors must increase. But after two years of negotiations, the agreement has led to difficulties in funding the salary increases. Combined with a lower-than-expected graduate level enrollment — the thing BU has relied on for supplementing the need for more funding — the situation has become a recipe for financial distress. According to the University’s 2019 Financial Report, in the 2018-19 academic year, BU had 2,547 graduate students — and in the 2011-2012 academic year, BU had 1,933, netting only about 600 more graduate students in the last seven years. Worst yet, the numbers for graduate student admissions have slowed significantly in the last three years, with a total gain of fewer than 50 graduate students. If these numbers continue over the next year, it’s unclear if BU has a contingency plan beyond implementing additional budget cuts, which would be devastating for students, faculty and the University as an academic institution.
This is a case where the administration cannot be blamed, but there remains the issue of transparency. When Pipe Dream’s Editorial Board reached out to faculty for this editorial, they either declined to comment, could not be reached for comment or did not know enough about the decentralized budget to issue a comment. Students are equally in the dark, with the weight of these monetary woes hidden behind reports that many likely don’t even know exist. Going forward, especially after many years of continuous funding troubles, BU’s administration should make a greater effort to communicate to students and faculty about the budget cuts that will inevitably come to hurt them. All this is only further complicated by the unnecessarily complex nature of the budget, which has previously restricted where available funds can be allocated.
Although it’s nice that BU has decided to relinquish control of budget cuts to the departments they effect, it’s unfortunate that it took such financial uncertainty to make it happen. Furthermore, that professors have been denied their well-deserved raises for so long is troubling, on the part of the University and the state. It has yet to be seen whether these changes will relieve BU’s current budgetary challenges. The Editorial Board hopes that the plan works, and a divided budget doesn’t lead to even greater problems.