Archive Notes - March 2011

Although T. S. Eliot called April the cruelest month, my money is on February or March.  The days are short, but getting longer.  The weather is no longer stable: one day in the 40’s the next well below zero.  Snow is on the garden, but hope is in our hearts.  The semester is well underway, and we are all in for the long haul to May.  As a distraction, I wanted to share a few important things with you.

Budget Update

Many folks on campus these days are wondering what our budget will look like for next year.  Let me take this opportunity to outline some of the variables with which we have to work in crafting a budget.  They fall into two categories: possible cuts and possible sources of new revenue.

Looking first at the possible cuts, the Governor has proposed a 10% reduction in state support to SUNY as part of his budget.  The 10% cut, depending on how it is allocated to the units, could mean a reduction of between $1.5 and $2 million to our campus.  At this point it is important to remember that this is just a budget proposal.  The Legislature has to act to make it become law.  From everything I have been able to glean in Albany, while the 10% cut is a realistic scenario, it is also a worst-case scenario. 

Among other possible reductions to our base budget, it is possible that we will have to absorb other cuts to SUNY.  For instance, the Governor has called for eliminating all state support to the teaching hospitals.  That would in essence force our medical schools to close, since they would not be able to operate the teaching hospitals without that support.  SUNY as a whole might have to help them out.  As well, the budget of SUNY central administration has also been drastically reduced.  The Chancellor might seek to get assistance from all of the campuses to soften those cuts.  This could also affect our budget in a negative fashion.  

SUNY allocates cuts in a manner similar to the way they used to allocate new resources.  There is some discussion of adopting a new allocation model.  Linked to this, the Chancellor has proposed at least part of our state funds should be allocated through the use of performance measures.  At present there are no concrete models for any change to the allocation process and in fact that might take months if not years to perfect.  Furthermore, recent information indicates that performance-based funding may only apply to new monies allocated within the system, a condition we can hope for in the future. The Chancellor has promised to include the Presidents in the final discussion of any of these models.  Consequently, I do not expect any dramatic change on this front in the near future.

On the revenue side of the equation, we are experiencing a very strong recruiting year.  Our applications and acceptances are running equal to last year, which was one of the strongest in decades.  Our retention efforts also seem to be reaping fruits, with higher than expected fall to spring retention this year. As a result we anticipate continued growth in our undergraduate population.  This means that our tuition revenue will continue to be solid.  The Legislature is exploring proposals regarding a tuition increase.  There is consensus that if a tuition increase is approved, the State should neither grab the tuition increase to resolve its own fiscal issues nor inflict a concomitant reduction in state support to SUNY, as has happened in the past.  This consensus is being referred to as “maintenance of effort.”

Here on our campus we are analyzing all of these scenarios.  We have to remember we have already lost nearly $8.5 million, and we have not completely accommodated all of those reductions.  A cut of $1.5 to $2 million makes our job just that much more difficult. Vice President Mike Lewis and I are exploring all of these possibilities and building many different budget scenarios.  We are working closely with the President's Council to evaluate the impact of various reductions and allocations of cuts on our campus.  But given the fluid nature of the budget talks in Albany, it is too soon to finalize any plans.  We are honestly studying the full range of possible budgets to be able to respond when a final decision is made.

Personnel Changes in Business Affairs

I have begun to organize a search to replace Vice President Michael Lewis, who will retire at the end of this calendar year.  A job description has been written and I am consulting with the Faculty Senate, SGA, and others regarding appointments to the search committee.  It is my hope that members of the committee will be able to meet periodically over the summer so that we can invite candidates to campus early in the fall semester, in order to hire a new Vice President with a starting date of January 1, 2012.

With the retirement of William Fisher as Assistant Vice President for Facilities this past December, Vice President Lewis and I have been taking this opportunity to reorganize the Facilities divisional structure.  An announcement will be forthcoming which provides an overview of this reorganization.

Fundraising efforts

Despite the continued challenging budget climate the College Development Office continues to actively seek charitable gifts and we remain focused on achieving our annual goals in fundraising to support our student scholarships, classroom renovations, and programs that make the SUNY Potsdam experience unique.  

Our annual giving goal for this year is $2.4 million, and as of mid February we have already raised $2.2 million, with four months left in the fiscal year.  According to the most recent data, we rank 18th nationally among our peer institutions in annual giving.  Although we are one of the smallest units in SUNY we also rank very high in charitable giving.  We rank first in undergraduate alumni participation, second in endowment per student, and third in total alumni participation (as a percentage), in total funds raised per student, and in bequests received.  

We are so fortunate to benefit from the extraordinary generosity of people like Brock and Jane McElheran.  The College Foundation is the beneficiary of more than $1.6 million from the estate of the McElherans. Their gifts will ensure funding in perpetuity for the School and programs that were so special to them, including enhancing the McElheran Visiting Artist Series, which brings international-caliber performing artists to SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music through a partnership with Community Performance Series and providing additional funding for the N. Brock McElheran String Scholarship endowment, which assists talented string students in attending Crane. These gifts will also allow us to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the Crane School of Music during this 2011-2012 academic year in a way fitting the tradition of innovation of Julia E. Crane and Helen Hosmer.  

In short, the dedication and affection of our alumni for the College reaps very positive benefits to us in this difficult financial environment.  I have every expectation that our alumni and friends will continue to generously support the College.