April 22, 2011

Plattsburgh State cuts programs

Canadian studies, geography victims of university cuts


PLATTSBURGH — The Canadian studies and geography majors are gone at Plattsburgh State.

Both bachelor-degree programs are victims of budget cuts as the university struggles with a $4.3-million deficit that is only getting bigger. As a result, its leaders are turning to using temporary cash reserves, tightening budgets, cutting positions and more to contend with escalating costs and shrinking revenues.

"Each division of the college has implemented reductions, and we have made a concerted effort to minimize the impact on students and classroom instruction," said Plattsburgh State President Dr. John Ettling in an email to the campus community.


The State Legislature's 2011-12 budget cut the State University of New York's campuses and hospitals by $170.1 million. It appears that Plattsburgh State will lose anywhere from $1 million to $2.3 million.

That is in addition to the university's current $4.3 million deficit, which was accumulated over the last three fiscal years.

Plattsburgh State has identified $3.9 million in budget cuts — $3.4 million of which are permanent — for this fiscal year in order to deal with the deficit.

"Our employee base is smaller today than it was in 2008 because of the various measures that have been implemented, including the statewide early retirement incentive last year, our campus-based voluntary separation programs, leaves, work reductions, program changes and other personnel actions," Ettling said. "This has allowed us to address the budget deficit without invoking retrenchment."


Academic Affairs has 19.58 fewer positions and decreased its budget by 2.8 percent, while Business Affairs, Student Affairs, Institutional Advancement and the President's Office have cut 40.12 full-time employees and cut 5.8 percent from their budgets. Since July 1, 2010, the university has identified nearly $3 million in salary reductions.

"The absolute biggest cuts have been personnel," said John Homburger, vice president of business affairs.

Despite the number of positions eliminated, he knew of only one layoff, a part-time position. Others were eliminated through attrition or the non-renewal of appointments.

"We benefited a lot from retirement and early separation programs that we initiated," Homburger said.

Suspending admission to the bachelor-degree programs in geography and Canadian studies brings savings of roughly $300,000. Dropping the two majors was a result of enrollment tests, as well as retirements in each department.

Students will still be able to take courses and minor in these two areas, while those already enrolled in a bachelor degree program in geography or Canadian studies will be able to complete their degree requirements. But no new students will be accepted into either major after the fall 2011 admissions cycle.


Plattsburgh State's Technical Assistance Center, which has operated for more than 40 years, will close effective June 30, 2011, for a savings of around $150,000.

The center serves as an economic and community development outreach service of the college, but operating costs have exceeded revenues for several years.

Other reductions include: eliminating the Freshman Experience Program ($120,000), suspension of the Faculty Fellows Program ($20,000), elimination of one issue of Plattsburgh Magazine ($40,000), reduction of the Art Museum's state budget ($50,000) and budgets for marketing and communications ($85,000). The university also plans to increase student fees in the areas of applied music lessons, technology, student health, orientation and intercollegiate athletics.

"These decisions were made in the context of permanency," Homburger said. "If things start stabilizing, we will probably be strengthening other areas."


As university officials considered cost reductions, the goal was to minimize any kind of damage and protect the integrity and quality of the central mission to educate students. Administration also wanted to ensure that faculty members felt Plattsburgh State could continue to provide a quality education.

The future remains uncertain, Homburger said, though it would be helpful if the Legislature passed the Rational Tuition proposal to provide universities with at least some certainty going forward. Plattsburgh State still has further reductions to make that will be spread out over the next year.

"I think we all kind of feel relieved to a degree that we were able to get this far," Homburger said. "I think we have done it in a pretty thoughtful way without creating a lot of damage."

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