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SUNY faculty & students want state to pay more of university's operating costs

Ellen Abbott
SUNY faculty and students speak out in Syracuse Wednesday.

SUNY faculty and students are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would mean more money for the state university system.  

Michael Lyon, professor at Upstate Medical University, knows what it’s like to be buried in student debt.

"I finished paying for my education when my first adult child started college. So it was a never-ending payment,” said Lyon.

And with students incurring more and more debt these days, he doesn’t think it’s fair that the tuition is bearing a bigger share of the cost of running colleges and universities in the SUNY system. That’s why he’s urging the governor to sign a bipartisan bill that would increase funding to SUNY and CUNY for inflationary and mandatory expanses like heating and electric bills.  

Lyon says his facility needs help dealing with ongoing increasing costs that he says shouldn’t be borne by students.

“We are responsible for all increases in our utility bills, any negotiated salary increases, benefits, all of that comes out of the hospital’s operating budget. This would take care of a lot of that.”

The state’s share of funding for SUNY has dropped dramatically since state budget troubles precipitated by the economic downturn that started in 2008. Tuition now amounts for almost two-thirds of the colleges’ and universities’ operating expenses. And Harlan Dunn, a SUNY New Paltz student, says it’s affecting the quality of education.

“Students around the state have struggled to really get adequate academic advisement. Because their advisors are so overwhelmed with their workload, they don’t have time to do that, and it’s important to get proper academic advisement as they go through the process,” said Dunn.

Other signs of cash-starved schools are the increasing number of adjunct professors, says Lyon.  

“For example, Cortland is 50 percent adjunct faculty. I don’t know what the average is across the state, but it’s pretty high. And they hire these people because they can hire them cheaply,” said Lyon.

Both houses of the state legislature last month overwhelmingly approved the Maintenance of Effort Bill that would provide extra funds. Supporters hope the governor signs it be the end of the year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.