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.