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Head of SUNY faculty union makes pitch for larger state investment in NY's public universities

President Fred Kowal cites deficits for several campuses and hopes Governor will provide more funding in the coming state budget.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The head of the union representing faculty at SUNY colleges and universities is crossing the state and sounding the alarm on growing deficits for several institutions.

United University Professions President Fred Kowal is trying to drum up support for a major increase in SUNY funding prior to the start of the state's budget process.

"Buffalo State faces a $16 million projected deficit and SUNY Fredonia faces a $16.8 million deficit," said Kowal while at Buffalo State's campus on Tuesday afternoon. "This is simply unacceptable and, to speak candidly, cause for serious concern. 

According to Kowal, at least 19 of SUNY's colleges and universities face multi-million dollar deficits which he says were driven mostly by a "gross underfunding" that took place during the administrations of former NY. Gov Andrew Cuomo, before Cuomo resigned in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal in August of 2021.

"He (Cuomo) was not a friend of SUNY at all," insisted Kowal. "We had a great deal of difficulty in getting any kind of funding. Last year we finally turned the page on over a decade of austerity budgets put in place by the previous governor."

Conversely, Kowal is hopeful that Cuomo's successor, Kathy Hochul, will increase funding levels when she unveils her budget proposal for the coming year.

Kowal explained that SUNY relies heavily on tuition as a source of revenue. While tuition has been frozen for two years, and the eligibility for programs offering tuition-free admittance has expanded, certain campuses that have seen enrollment dwindle have been struggling financially.

"So when you start to see an enrollment decline, that's going to affect the revenue side," he said.

It has also forced campuses to increase fees.

"There are students who would like to attend and who are interested in attending but do not do so because of the cost," said Kowal. "You have to address the costs of fees which have been going up. And it's the issue of fees with campuses like Buffalo State and Fredonia and other comprehensive campuses where they have tried to make up the revenue difference."

Kowal believes the state should spend an additional $1 billion on SUNY in order to improve campuses, prevent cuts in course offerings, and increase salaries for faculty.

"They cannot bring in candidates they want to who will accept positions because of the pay. Governor Hochul, to her credit, pointed that out at her (2022) State of the State. So hopefully this year, the resources will be there."

Kowal hopes the Governor's budget will contain at least $350 million more for SUNY in 2023.

"In a (state) budget that is $250 billion, $350 million is not a huge amount of money but it will make a major difference," said Kowal. "We need to invest in the institutions to make sure students are attracted and want to stay."

Kowal was joined by a host of elected officials, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, himself a Buffalo State graduate, who noted the economic impact SUNY campuses have on the communities where they are located, both in terms of providing jobs and the boost students give to area businesses.

"Economic development is defined as the creation of wealth from which community benefits are realized, and SUNY is economic development," said Kowal. "Statewide it has an economic impact of nearly $30 billion per year and can be a leader in reversing our shortages of teachers, nurses, and IT professionals. Campuses like Buff State and Fredonia have the very programs in need...they just need the funding."

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