Press-Republican

December 2, 2010

College president warns students of tough times ahead

รข Aid reduction, layoffs in college's future, chief says

STEPHEN BARTLETT
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh State's president wants students to get to work on the New York State Legislature.

"You're a voter, and you have parents," Dr. John Ettling said, speaking in an address to students this week about the university's extremely difficult financial situation.

"Tell the legislature you're not going to put up with this."

BIG LOCAL HIT

Plattsburgh State's deficit has reached roughly $4.4 million over the past four years.

Ettling said his priority is the school's academic mission, though he told the small group of students, faculty and staff at the meeting that the college and its offerings will shrink and layoffs are inevitable.

The fiscal disaster started with the Great Recession and New York state's realization it was budgeting more than it was collecting in revenues.

Suddenly, the State University of New York and its schools were hit with midyear cuts and aid reductions as costs continued to soar.

In less than three years, Plattsburgh State has lost up to 35 percent of its budget.

The university is losing another $521,400 as part of a $23.25 million midyear cut to SUNY.

"Next year is expected to be worse than this year," Ettling said. "We have to identify ways to close our $4.4 million budget deficit.

"As much as possible, I wish to protect academic programs."

LAYOFFS COMING

Employee costs account for about 87 percent of the university's budget. Layoffs are inevitable, Ettling said.

"We will seek advice from union officials and follow state, Civil Service and union guidelines in contracts as we reduce the workforce. There are explicit processes laid out that we must follow."

And as much as he wishes to preserve academic programs, he said, "We cannot get to $4.4 million without reducing the instructional capacity of the college."

The university is using up its reserves and is reducing sections and increasing class sizes, while turning to the service side of the institution for further cost-cutting measures.

The services of student accounts, financial-aid processing and academic advising are likely to be cut back, and janitorial cleaning cycles are expected to change.

WEEKLY MEETINGS

Plattsburgh State has already instituted some consolidations, faculty members are teaching more courses, and more than 60 people have taken advantage of early retirement incentives or plan to do so shortly.

"But even with retirements, we are replacing some positions because of program requirements," Ettling said.

Officials are monitoring each building for energy consumption, and vice presidents and deans are meeting weekly with Ettling to brainstorm ways to save money.

REDUCED OPTIONS

The president repeatedly stressed protecting the academic mission. Everything else the college does, he said, is valuable but not essential.

"Obviously, cuts of this magnitude are going to negatively impact what we can do on campus."

Students may find themselves with fewer options to satisfy degree requirements, he said.

ATTITUDE

Student Association President Charlie Peppers acknowledged that times are tough while suggesting it is important "to keep doing what we are doing and keep our energy positive.

"I think that attitude sets a high precedent, and if we can keep that precedent high, we will be successful."

E-mail Stephen Bartlett at: sbartlett@pressrepublican.com