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Budget would undercut SUNY's ability to function

We were hoping that a new year and a new governor would turn a new page when it came to state funding for the State University of New York.

Unfortunately, what we got in the governor's proposed spending plan for next year was the same old story: another bone-deep cut in funding to SUNY's state-operated campuses and its three teaching hospitals.

The governor's proposed budget slashes SUNY's state support by 10 percent, which would bring the total funding loss for state-operated campuses to about $685 million -- a third of the university's annual operating budget.

Fortunately, the state budget is not written in stone. United University Professions is conducting a public information campaign to urge our statewide elected representatives to "Think Ahead, Invest in Higher Ed." We cannot allow the state to reduce SUNY's funding any further.

A vibrant public higher education system that is adequately funded, accessible and affordable is essential for a thriving local and state economy.

SUNY has shouldered far more than its share of reductions, and this trend must be reversed. If it isn't, students and parents will find even larger classes, fewer instructors and fewer course offerings. Fewer courses would mean an extra year of school -- and another year of tuition -- for students shut out of classes required for graduation.

No doubt you've read about proposals for so-called SUNY "flexibility," advanced as a solution to SUNY's fiscal woes. This year's plan would permit SUNY to lease campus properties and enter into public-private partnerships with limited oversight. It would also allow SUNY to contract for services without approvals from the state comptroller or attorney general. We oppose these proposals because they would allow academic priorities to take a back seat to commercial interests.

We are not standing in the way of economic development, but the legislation that would have implemented UB 2020 drew our objection. The means to create public-private partnerships already exists with legislative oversight. The goals of UB 2020 can be achieved without subordinating the real purpose of SUNY: to educate the next generation of working New Yorkers.

The proposed budget also threatens the future of SUNY's medical education at UB. Huge Medicaid cuts to the local community hospitals where UB medical students train could sharply curtail the number of students. More than 80 percent of SUNY medical school graduates stay close to home after graduation. If they have to leave New York to get their degree, it would lead to fewer health care professionals to serve the needs of local residents.

Get the facts on the proposed cuts to SUNY by going to www.savesuny.org. The website also allows you to send a message directly to state lawmakers urging them to reject any further cuts to SUNY's budget.

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Phillip H. Smith is president of United University Professions.

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