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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Recap: The Budget Crisis

    “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! SUNY cuts have got to go!” the 50 or so students yelled in the Student Activities Center Circle in the blistering cold on Nov. 19. Almost 20 journalists and television cameras interviewed them as the students shivered, their noses glowing red and their hands jammed in their pockets.

    Student government leaders and Stony Brook University administrators took turns addressing the crowd of protestors, voices cracking and each word emitting a blast of thick white fog into the afternoon air. Intent and purposeful, they united for one reason: to protest the SUNY budget cuts.

    SUNY budget cuts are poised to hit Stony Brook University hard. After taking a $7.4 million cut in April 2008, Stony Brook’s budget will be cut by an additional $9.2 million by the end of 2008.

    And the belt-tightening isn’t over: $9.2 million will eventually become $12.3 million in 2009, resulting in a total budget cut of $19.8 million in the 2008-2009 school year.

    These cuts are only expected to hurt students: class sizes will grow, tuition will be more expensive, and the hiring of new faculty and staff has already been frozen. In addition, some courses and the number of sections offered for popular courses will be reduced. For some students intending to graduate in May, that poses a challenge: How can they graduate on time, if some of the courses they need won’t be offered?

    Mark Maciulaitis, Stony Brook’s budget director said tuition for in-state students will increase by $610 a year, starting this spring. Maciulaitis also said that Stony Brook received the second highest cut in its budget; SUNY Buffalo received the highest.

    Aharon Benel, a student senator who is scheduled to graduate in May, said he fears he won’t be able to graduate on time. As many as 20 class sections of required courses, including courses required for his major, are slated to be eliminated, he said.

    “Honestly, being a pre-med student and trying to graduate in four years is hard enough,” he said angrily. “But having to think I would have to stay here for a fifth year just because I couldn’t take one or two classes would be horrible.”

    Geeta Malieckal, the student government executive vice president, said she too feared budget cuts would force students to stay in school longer. “Instead of the 320 [Diversified Education Curriculum] classes, there are about 280 present,” she said. “A lot of people won’t be able to graduate; it might take six years.”

    Though Malieckal said she is sure she will graduate in May, she still thinks about the long-term effects of the cuts and how they will impact the SUNY system in the future. “My biggest fear is that it will regularly be six years that you need to graduate,” she said. “Four year colleges wouldn’t exist anymore, that’s my biggest fear. I’m afraid of the SUNY system falling apart.”

    The University Registrar, Beverly Rivera, was unavailable to comment on the specific classes being cut.

    Eliminating courses and sections are viewed as a last resort to plugging the budget gap, but class sections for the spring semester have already been reduced. “The president is committed to doing the most she can possibly do to not impact classes and the academic area,” Maciulaitis said. “However, the cuts are so big that there may be an impact, but we’re still not exactly sure of it yet.” He said university President Shirley Strum Kenny, has given the vice presidents the discretion “to deal with the cuts the way they see fit.”

    The president of Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government, Jeffrey Akita, also said the number of academic advisors will decrease. Akita went on to describe the state of the university as “a big mess.”

    Akita said clubs and organizations will be affected by the budget cuts too. “Because enrollment can go down, we may have less money to give out to clubs and organizations, but the amount of clubs and organizations is still high,” he said.

    The news that budget cuts were coming was first announced in April, when the proposed New York State budget revealed a reduction in SUNY spending of almost 3 percent. Akita responded then by posting a letter on the student government website urging students to “write letters to your local representatives urging them not to take this action, but to rather help SAVE SUNY NOW!!” Akita’s letter also outlined the expected effects of the budget cuts.

    Manpreet Singh, a junior at Stony Brook and a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, attended the Nov. 19 protest along with his fraternity brothers. Singh’s chances of obtaining loans to cover tuition are already jeopardized by tightened credit restrictions on student loans, and now the bill he’s having trouble paying is getting larger. “The economy is already doing bad as it is,” he said. “And with the [tuition increasing] it would be hard for us to get loans to pay for school.”

    Students are not the only ones affected by this crisis, as faculty members also protested the budget cuts. John Schmidt, the president of the campus chapter of the United University Professions union, expressed his anger toward the state government when he spoke at the Nov. 19 protest and led students in chanting “SUNY is the Solution!” The UUP is the largest higher-education union in the country, and its members have joined students in demonstrations against the budget cuts. According to Schmidt, “UUP, on a weekly basis, goes to various legislative offices in Albany, advocating for SUNY, advocating for Stony Brook.”

    Everyone interviewed agrees that protesting the budget cuts could stop the cuts from taking effect.

    “I think that protests would let people know what’s going on,” Malieckal said. “We had the media here today so this will make the news and it will get back to Albany and they will see that students do care.”

    Craig McCarthy, a fourth-year student, said, “I feel that if we get our voice out or if we’re on the news, it would be shown to more people and they would see how we feel about the budget cuts.”

    According to Schmidt, the UUP is organizing a demonstration in Albany on Jan. 7. “We’re expecting about 10,000 people for this demonstration,” he said. “It coincides with Governor Paterson’s presentation of his budget to the media.”

    The student government also started a letter-writing campaign, in which students will be able to write letters to the governor, senators, and assemblymen. “Students can pick up the letters at the [student government office] and they will be able to speak their minds about the budget cuts,” Akita said.

    Akita urged students to do so. “It’s a disaster,” he said.

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