Faced with $3M deficit, SUNY Potsdam mulls cuts at majors amid leadership changes – North Country Public Radio | Candle Made Easy

SUNY Potsdam. Photo: Jondude11, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing financial headaches for universities and colleges. But the State University of New York system was struggling long before the pandemic began.

SUNY Potsdam faces a particularly deep crisis. Enrollment has fallen by about half over the past decade. Important management positions are vacant. And the school is trying to close a $3 million deficit.

One solution the university is considering is to eliminate majors, some of which are central to a liberal arts education, such as art history and math.

There is no quick fix to the problems SUNY Potsdam is facing. State funding has been relatively stagnant for years. SUNY has dedicated more money to research centers than 4-year liberal arts schools like SUNY Potsdam.

“The financial situation at SUNY Potsdam is indeed pretty dire,” said D. Jefferson Reeder, representative of United University Professionals. The union represents the faculty on campus. “Their enrollment is down a lot, half what it was seven or eight years ago. They are down many millions of dollars.”

Interim president Phillip Neisser, who was officially appointed officer in charge by SUNY, said the university’s deficit is about $3 million. He said enrollment is the single most important way a college like SUNY Potsdam makes money. About 2,400 students will be on campus this fall, but that’s not enough to fill the financial gap, he says.

“Academic Realignment”

Patrick Quinn, SUNY Potsdam’s enrollment manager, said the university will never see enrollment numbers like they did almost a decade ago.

“Overall enrollment into the SUNY system has declined over the past 10 years,” Quinn said, “partly due to some demographic shifts, but also due to competition from the private higher education sector.”

But Quinn said enrollment doesn’t have to go back previously Levels for the university to be in good shape. “I think I could see us growing 10-15% let’s say overall, so that could be another 200, 250, 300 students.”

Quinn said it could take five years for enrollments to increase that much. He said a key way to do that is through what he calls “academic refocusing” – basically strengthening academic programs that would attract more students.

Academic realignment is happening everywhere. And in all honesty, if you don’t, then you’re not doing your job as an institution, because you need to look not only at the programs you offer, but also at the ways to access those programs, whether it’s online, in person, or a hybrid model,” he said.

NCPR acquired an early draft of this “realignment plan”. 17 majors, 8 minors and 2 departments were “notified” that they could be eliminated.

A spokesman for the university said no programs are at risk of immediate cancellation as of this week. But the programs at risk must meet ingestion and restructuring targets to survive.

These programs include mathematics, computer science, French and physics majors. Four majors in the English department would be reduced to two. The physics and philosophy departments will be merged with others, and the art history major, which will be eliminated in the spring, is working to partner with SUNY Plattsburgh to continue.

An existential crisis in the humanities

D. Jefferson Reeder, the union rep, after years of underfunding departments, said the “realignment plan” is sending the wrong message to the faculty.

You feel very bad about it. you are depressed They are Angry. They’re frustrated,” he said.

Neisser, the interim president, says no programs have been cut — yet.

You know, if a program is discontinued, that’s just hypothetical, it doesn’t necessarily save money,” Neisser said. “But it could mean that at some point after that, someone won’t be replaced. And maybe [someone else] hired in another area for another program which is a growing enrollment area. Please realize that we need to put our dollars into the programs that have enrollment potential.”

Kevin Kinser said SUNY Potsdam is not alone. Kinser is a professor at the Penn State Center for the Study of Higher Education. He also taught at SUNY Albany for 15 years. He said public and private universities across the country are taking a similar cost-benefit approach to their academic offerings.

Whether this is an effective strategy for cost reduction and long-term sustainability remains to be seen, Kinser said. “As so often, it depends on the institution and what is actually being done. It’s often very controversial.”

Controversial because, he said, the programs that are most often on the cutting board are those core liberal arts courses.

Is a humanities education a practical education? In the sense of: Is it necessary for people to find work? Like it or not, people don’t go to college now for personal growth. They go there and pay their tuition and honestly the state subsidizes that because they see an economic benefit and that economic benefit is both social and personal,” he said.

Burnout is “very high”

At SUNY Potsdam, this is all happening in the midst of major personnel changes. There is a statewide search for a president, the dean of the Arts & Sciences School recently resigned, as did the head of the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Office, chief financial officer and provost.

The job advertisements and the prospect of changes are causing problems for the faculty. Heather Sullivan-Catlin has been a professor at SUNY Potsdam for 22 years. She said burnout is increasing among faculty.

It’s very high. When I talk to a lot of my colleagues lately, the conversation is, “When should we retire?” “Shall we try to keep this up?” she said.

Late last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $113 million in new funding for SUNY schools. About half of that will go to 30 campuses to resolve enrollment and academic issues.

How much SUNY Potsdam gets is unclear. Meanwhile, the “realignment” plan is progressing.

Classes begin August 29th.

Leave a Comment