This article was originally published in the legislativegazette.com.
The first-year results of a new SUNY procurement program, aimed at shifting 5 percent of administrative spending to student services over a three- year period, has been lauded by university administrators across the state. But the same sentiment is not shared by many student activist groups critical of the Shared Services Initiative for ignoring their real concerns.
By combining several administrative offices within the State University of New York’s 64-campus system that are in close geographic proximity, more than $6 million has been reallocated to the hiring of professors and an increased variety of academic program offerings statewide. Regional alliances formed in three parts of the state: Morrisville State College and SUNY IT; SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton; and SUNY Delhi and SUNY Cobleskill, have redirected more than $2.5 million to the hiring of more than 30 new full-time faculty members.
The Campus Alliance Networks’ SSI was announced in August 2011 with the goal of eventually generating $100 million annually in administrative savings. The plan to apply these savings to additional student services was outlined in SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s 2012 State of the University Address.
Zimpher thanked the members of the initiative for the "remarkable progress" of the program so far in a statement released Sept. 19.
"This is just the beginning as we continue to review where and how we can streamline our administrative costs and share best practices across SUNY," said Zimpher. "I thank the leadership at each campus for their dedication and diligence, and commend them for their collective efforts."
Administrative spending cuts ultimately chosen for elimination were left up to each regionally-based campus network, said SUNY spokesman Dave Belski.
"They know best where their strengths and weaknesses, and room for growth, are," said Belski.
Belski said one way universities are lowering administrative costs is through attrition of faculty. When one faculty member retires, Belski said, instead of making a new hire to replace them, another current faculty member is moved over to take the position.
"The intention is not to lower the SUNY workforce; it’s to invest in areas that need more assistance," Belski said.
But student rights activist Sean Collins does not share the same support for the shared services initiative.
Collins, a spokesman for the activist organization New York Students Rising, has criticized the efficiency program because he said SUNY budget cuts and recent professor layoffs have already left universities understaffed and under-funded. He said administrative cuts are leading to longer lines at university offices, and delays in financial aid disbursements.
Collins said while he is happy the chancellor is "saving a buck," he said she is ignoring the real problem.
"What is not being done is anything to reduce administrative salaries," Collins said. "The new president at UAlbany [Dr. Robert J. Jones] is going to make more than $500,000. Alain Kaloyeros makes $1 million dollars [annually]. At the same time the chancellor is increasing tuition."
According to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, Kaloyeros, chief executive officer and senior vice president of UAlbany’s college of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, makes $792,583 per year.
Collins said while he understands the value of science, UAlbany should be able to hire professors in both science and liberal arts, not just one major because it is more profitable.
In Cobleskill and Delhi, that is just what they are doing, according to Joel Smith, vice president for college relations at SUNY Delhi. The two SUNY universities combined saved more than $700,000 in administrative savings by establishing a joint cabinet, with both schools sharing a president and vice president for student advancement, college relations, business, operations and finance.
"At Delhi we used the savings to hire 21 new full-time faculty and staff for fall 2012," Smith said. "It cuts across variety of areas like construction, economics, liberal arts… We invested in the liberal arts because they are particularly important in supportting baccalaureate programs."
And Smith said the universities did this without laying-off a single person. He said opportunities arose thanks to retirements and several members moving up the SUNY ranks.
Along with the direct academic improvements, the two universities are planning to build a bridge to expand the bandwidth at both universities for faster Internet use for students. The universities have also hired a student activities manager and a webmaster to improve the web presence of the technical colleges. SUNY Delhi has also made improvements to its library.
"The students are the real winners here," Smith said.
But not every student feels like they are winning, including Cayden Mak, a graduate student at the University at Buffalo who also works as an adjunct faculty. Mak, a member of the Defend Our Education Coalition, is worried the tenure-track professors hired by his university will not be able to devote the necessary time to meeting with students. He said not all faculty are focused on teaching, and many are more concerned about research, because that is the only way to secure tenure.
"While sharing printing services, for example, seems fine and good, I often wonder if the chancellor is really thinking carefully about who does the teaching, who has front-line contact with students, and what the value of an education in a solid and diverse core curriculum is," Mak said.