Community Meeting: 3-4-11

The President’s Community Meeting
Friday, March 4, 2011

At the community meeting on Friday, March 4, President William P. Kelly, in the face of impending state cuts to CUNY allocations, addressed concerns about the budget, but also spoke with enthusiasm about the Graduate Center enrollment, research, interdisciplinary work, public programs, and plans to make the building more green.

Over the last three years—fiscal 2009, 2010, 2011—the Graduate Center suffered almost $6.4 million in cuts to its base budget, moneys that are yet to be restored. The president thanked the business office for their expertise in instituting these cuts “in a relatively invisible way,” without instilling a sense of deprivation or disrupting any programs or lives. Now, the next fiscal year is looming. CUNY has been assessed an additional $83,200,000 cut plus an $11.9 million cut due to a midyear budget correction in fiscal year 2010–11. In sum, CUNY is facing a budget cut of $95 million for the next fiscal year. Fortunately, the state budget will cover all mandatory costs, which include most significantly collective-bargaining wage increases that are in the contract, fringe benefits, and energy costs; and CUNY will not suffer the retrenchments, furloughs, or freezes in salaries that public universities around the United States have experienced. Nevertheless, the $95 million in additional cuts to the university will be difficult to institute without feeling the squeeze.

The university is responding to the cuts in several ways: first, by lobbying for restoration of some of the cuts in the senate and the assembly, but the president held out little hope that these efforts would meet with success, due to the mood of fiscal austerity in Albany; second, CUNY is asking the state to institute a “rational tuition policy” that would put into place an annual modest tuition increase—2 to 3 percent. Such a policy would allow students to predict with some certainty their tuition costs. CUNY's tuition—currently $3300 at the community colleges and $4700 at the senior colleges—is dramatically lower, not just than private colleges and universities in the metropolitan area, but also than most eastern public universities; and given the cost of living in New York City and the cost of doing business here, “the tuition is probably under where it might be,” said the president. Modest tuition increases in the $115 range multiplied by 262,000, the number of students at CUNY, would go a long way toward easing the university's budget crunch.

President Kelly was unable to predict exactly the budget cut for the entire university. The high end is $95 million; the lower end is dependent upon whether there are any restorations on the budget and whether a tuition increase will be in place for academic year 2011–12, in which case, the university is allowed to keep 40 percent of the tuition increase.

The administration speculates that the Graduate Center’s share of those cuts will be in the realm of $4 million—in addition to the $6.3 million the Graduate Center has already absorbed over the past three years.

The president emphasized that the Graduate Center will continue to focus on its mission of teaching and learning, and that “all of our efforts in this direction will be designed toward protecting and preserving the integrity of that mission.” Austerity measures will stay in place: vacant positions will not be replaced, except in “brutally critical situations,” where replacements are urgently needed to preserve the integrity of the Graduate Center’s mission; OTPS spending will be further reduced and offices might see some reduction in supplies; and while no savings can be realized on the personnel side, which makes up more than 7 percent of the Graduate Center’s budget, new commitments will be limited. Efforts will be redoubled to audit all expenses and to deploy all Graduate Center resources so that no moneys are left unassigned.

Of vital importance, said the president, is growing the Graduate Center’s revenue stream. He publicly thanked Provost Chase Robinson and his staff for spearheading the efforts to increase enrollment in the master’s program in liberal studies and master’s programs that have been developed within the doctoral programs and to acquire further support in the areas of philanthropy, fundraising, and sponsored research. The president emphasized that he and the faculty considered any attempt to grow the revenue stream by increasing enrollment in the doctoral programs unethical. “Doctoral programs should admit only that number of students that they can reasonably expect to place appropriately,” he said, noting that CUNY’s Chancellor Goldstein supported this view. He urged all members of the community to take heart and feel free to offer advice and counsel “about ways in which we can continue to sustain our mission within the budgetary constraints with which we labor.”

Moving away from budget matters, the president spoke about ways the Graduate Center continues to strengthen its mission of teaching and learning. Model apartments are available for people for viewing in the new Graduate Center apartments and residential facility. “We expect to have it fully subscribed before we take possession in August,” said Kelly. Part of the intent in such a facility is to create an endowment; once the mortgage is discharged, the monthly rent revenues will be returned to the Graduate Center, and can be used to support students or faculty research or kept in reserve for difficult times like the present.

Regarding enrollment for the approaching academic year, the president was delighted to announce that another record was set in terms of applications, and executive officers are very happy with the choices of recruits; and student five-year funding packages are still in place.

Research initiatives and other scholarly activities continue to provide much excitement at the Graduate Center. The three Mellon-committee launches are under way—a lecture by the popular Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Žižek for the Committee on Globalization and Social Change; a talk by American neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel for the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies; and a conference with six or seven of the leading historians and philosophers of religion for the Committee for the Study of Religion. The Center for the Humanities, under Aoibheann Sweeney’s direction, continues its series of cross-CUNY seminars that involve faculty and graduate students. Public Programs is offering stimulating events with, among others, Gail Collins and Paul Krugman from the New York Times, Calvin Tomkins from the New Yorker in conversation with President Kelly, and Fred Hersch, the great jazz pianist, in conversation with jazz critic and Graduate Center faculty member Gary Giddins. He urged all to attend these events.

The president also shared some good news from the city government. The Harold M. Proshansky Auditorium was selected as a venue for the Manhattan borough president’s “State of the Borough” address and the speaker of the city council’s “State of the City Council” address, and Kelly announced that both entities have provided $500,000 each for the Graduate Center to develop plans for a green roof. “We’ve got a $1.5 million in place in capital money,” he said, emphasizing that there is a cordon sanitaire between capital money and personnel and operating money; funds in one area cannot pay for projects in the other.

Finally, the president talked about the launch of a strategic planning exercise by Associate Provost Louise Lennihan and Provost Chase Robinson; sustainability projects under the leadership of the associate director of facilities services and campus planning, Charles Scott, that aim to reduce the GC’s carbon footprint—a key piece being the green roof; and the installation of bike racks, “a holy grail of a minor sort,” on 35th and 34th Streets for those “looking toward a healthy and cardio-wise spring.”

Submitted on: MAR 4, 2011

Category: President's Office - Community Meeting