Cady Kuzmich, News Editor
Under the NYSUNY 2020 bill passed by Governor Cuomo in 2011, tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools is rising about $300 a year. While it may hurt our meager student budgets, $300 a year is nothing to complain about when it acts as a lifeline to the college that’s feeling the pressure from diminishing state aid. Yet making ends meet remains a struggle. Anyone that has looked for off-campus housing knows that living in Oneonta is far from cheap. Professors and adjuncts, with burdensome student loans, know this too. You put off grocery shopping till the end of the month, surviving on oatmeal and Ramen noodles until you’re momentarily back on track with your budget. As we continue to take out loans, work part-time jobs and grovel to our parents for grocery money in order to afford the rising tuition and living costs, shouldn’t we be wondering how the college allocates its funds?
Despite the image of a pipe smoking good ol’ boy sipping whiskey in a room stocked with leather bound books, professors don’t make as much as we might assume. In fact, SUNY Oneonta professors are relatively underpaid, ranking near the bottom among other SUNY schools according to Dr. Robert Compton’s article in a recent issue of the Sentinel. So, with rising tuition, rising housing costs, dwindling state aid, underpaid professors and expanding administration, where does the quality of our education factor in?
SUNY Oneonta recently underwent a reorganization process under new Provost Dr. Evelyn Maria Thompson, in the name of efficiency. With certain programs falling through the cracks in the wake of this reorganization, it begs the question, is this new structure all that more efficient? Reorganization has resulted in a shift from a three-division structure made up of liberal arts and sciences, education, and business and economics to a five-school structure — School of Business and Economics, School of Arts and Humanities, School of Social Science, School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and a School of Education and Human Ecology. Each of these schools will be headed by its own Dean or interim Dean.
Now you may think that the Deans should have some background knowledge in the departments they will be representing, yet this is not necessarily true. In a school that’s been described as “siloed”, with each department defending its own turf, why would a former Associate Dean of Business advocate for the Music Department? Yet under this reorganization scheme, this is what’s happening. This expansion just doesn’t make sense, especially with recent calls for consolidation. Deans are supposed to raise money for their respective schools. Is it the case that a Dean’s background really doesn’t matter as long as they know how to fundraise? This reliance on an interchangeable skill set is just another example of corporatized higher education. Efficiency, even at the cost of common sense.
When asked about the Deans’ salaries, Todd Foreman, the Vice President for Finance and Administration replied that the move to a five Dean structure would cost $196,000. He went on to say, “It’s a small investment when you consider our budget is nearly $108 million.” Of course, $196,000 may be a “small investment.” But what if the college decides to hire Associate Deans and a new Associate Provost for Academic Services? How much are we willing to invest in administration when our programs are on the line? Try telling a college student these expenditures are chump change.
Outdoor leadership students and those interested in the minor attended a recent SA meeting to hear what the Provost and the Deans had to say about the fate of the program. When one student asked the Provost why the program had been pulled and she replied that the program was not being pulled, that there was still a minor. Richard Lee, Interim Dean of Education and Human Ecology then jumped in to clarify that Outdoor Education has been put on hold. Suspended. Students can no longer enroll. Sure, you can take Outdoor Education classes, for the time being, but they won’t count toward a minor unless you’re already on that track.
Adjunct lecturer, Joel Skinner spoke of the struggle to keep the outdoor program alive, saying “It’s hard to promote a program that doesn’t really exist.” The decision to put the Outdoor Education program on hold has been blamed on poor enrollment numbers, but why not consolidate classes rather than pull the minor entirely? Many of these classes require low student-instructor ratios for safety reasons and so the caps are small. Classes fill up, but the numbers are still “too low.”
Adjunct lecturers, like Skinner, are paid per credit, with a maximum of 9 credits, making them cheaper for the college than full time faculty. Yet, they’re being cut. When there is only one certified instructor, an adjunct lecturer who can only teach 9 credits, how does the school expect higher enrollment? Who is advocating for these programs on the chopping block?
Students. That’s who. SUNY Oneonta student, Rebekah Obenoeur, continues to spearhead an attempt to save the outdoor program. Obenoeur along with her fellow student advocates have drafted a petition and are working to salvage what’s left of the program. The petition calls for the return of the outdoor leadership minor and that more classes be offered so that the minor can be completed.
If what the Deans say is true, that students are their number one priority, why then are they pulling well-loved programs? Why not focus on strengthening our programs from the bottom up rather than pulling the rug out from under our students and expanding from top down?