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News Analysis: University Budget Cuts Have Art Dept. Struggling to Make Ends Meet

With more possible cuts on the horizon, state universities are trying to figure out how to do more with less. But at Stony Brook, one of the smallest departments in the College of Arts and Sciences is finding that hard to do.

The Art Department, which has only 16 full-time professors, eight for studio art and eight for art history, says it doesn’t know what else it can eliminate. Already numerous classes, including sections of Introduction to Drawing and concentrations including a form of printmaking known as lithography, have been cut. Adjunct professors are not getting re-hired, causing classes sizes to increase and making the ability to get into classes harder.

“Professors have been telling us that if we want to sign up for classes we have to talk to the undergraduate director and petition to get in,” said studio art and art history senior Sophia Dang. “We have to basically fight to get in.”

Over the past year, state universities in New York have endured multiple rounds of budget cuts. Some schools including SUNY Geneseo and Albany have been forced to make significant cuts to some of their departments, in some occasions eliminating programs completely.  Already Stony Brook’s budget has been slashed 62 million over the past three years. With New York’s budget deficit expected to equal 9.2 billion next year, many fear that more cuts to education are on the way.

“For those of us who have been here awhile we know that it’s been painful but it’s never been this painful, and right now we still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mark Macciulaitis, Stony Brook’s Director of Budget and Analysis.

For the Art department, a smaller budget means things have to go. For example last year an adjunct professor, Lorena Salcedo-Watson, who is a master printmaker in the technique of Lithography, was not supposed to be rehired for this semester. In order to keep Salcedo-Watson on staff, students worked together to organize bake sales as well as artwork and t-shirt sales to raise the amount needed to pay an adjunct professor for one semester, $4,000.

Students were successful last year, and Salcedo-Watson was rehired for the Fall 2010 semester. But as the budget has not gotten any better, Salcedo-Watson seems to be on the chopping block again, and the two Lithography classes she taught are not being offered next semester.

“To have that cut I felt like I was losing out on something that I wanted to work harder in and wanted to grow more in and learn more about because there’s so much to learn that you can’t by just doing two, three or four projects in one semester,” said Dang, who helped organize print sales for the fundraiser.  “It was something that I wanted to continue experimenting with and it just felt like something was being taken away from me.”

Some art students say they are planning to try and fundraise again to keep Salcedo-Watson teaching Lithography for next semester, but it appears to be a temporary fix to what seems like an almost permanent problem. The chair of the art department, Tony Phillips, says cutting different concentrations may be what has to happen. Right now, nearly the art department’s entire $2 million budget  is spent on the salary of tenured professors.  That means there’s no extra money to buy supplies, equipment or even for rehiring adjuncts.

“You have a choice between spreading it very thin, or just saying we can’t do that,” said Phillips. “For example, we used to have courses in classical architecture. Things like that. We just don’t anymore, we just can’t.”

Even Phillips’ appointment to the chair of the department is a sign of the financial struggle. Phillips, a physicist from Stony Brook’s Math department, was appointed to the chair by Nancy Squires, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. One of the reasons for this move was because no one else in the Art department could be spared from teaching.

With the possible cutting of different concentrations in the arts, Phillips says that both students and faculty are scared.  With the cutting of humanities programs at Geneseo and Albany, many are wondering if that could happen at Stony Brook.

“You look at the newspaper and you see what’s happening at one of our sister campuses, part of SUNY,” Phillips said. “But I think we’re better than that.”

So far, Provost Eric Kaler says that there are no plans as of yet to eliminate any programs. He even went as far to release a statement saying, “Rumors of the Art department’s demise are wrong.” He continues “There are many conversations going on around campus about how we can organize ourselves more efficiently, but there are no plans to close the Art department or suspend any of its programs.”

But there’s still no clear cut way to deal with the financial issues the university is facing. The Art department is getting down to the bare bones of their budget and already has a sizable deficit that it owes the College of Arts and Sciences. With university’s budget projected to be cut again next year, budget director Maccialatius says some disciplines may just not survive.

“Is it better to cut everyone equally and everyone winds up getting worse and having their budgets cut, or can you identify some specific areas where there are some students here but if we cut that it will lessen the impact for the other 95% of the students out there,” Maccialatius said.

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