Geneseo strained by budget woes

As the 2009-2010 academic year rolls along, the Geneseo administration continues to struggle with what President Christopher Dahl called "the worst SUNY budget in approximately 30 or 35 years."

In wake of four successive rounds of budget cuts throughout the SUNY system, Geneseo began the academic year with a $3.2 million budgetary gap.

According to Dahl, such a shortfall is equivalent to between 45 and 60 full-time staff positions.

Several efforts enacted last year in an attempt to fill this void have been implemented again this year. For example, the college has upheld its hiring freeze on full-time, tenure-track faculty. Just recently, however, Dahl authorized Provost Carol Long to begin a search to fill five vacant full-time faculty positions.

"We're doing our best, even in the midst of a major storm when the ship is taking in water," Dahl said. "We can't go two years in a row with no new faculty."

The budget office has also transferred electricity costs from the state purpose budget to what is known as the Income Reimbursement Funds budget. This allows the college to mitigate the effects of state purpose budget cuts to the core instructional budget. According to Assistant Vice President for Budget James Milroy, this is only a temporary fix that cannot continue beyond the next two years.

In addition, the college has enacted a 13 percent Other Than Personal Services budget cut. This cut has affected all assorted departmental needs, including printing balances for professors and departmental programs and field trips.

In a controversial decision, the college also saved money by holding commencement ceremonies in the Wilson Ice Arena last May instead of building a temporary stadium. Commencement will be held in the ice arena again this year.

Such efforts, however, fall short of balancing the budget. According to Dahl, Geneseo has had to resort to tapping into reserve revenue accounts that are built up from the collection of fees, such as athletic and health service fees, in order to handle such a severe situation.

"That's where we are and that's not good," Dahl said. "We need to find other ways of getting more money or figure out ways to economize or make permanent cuts."

In order to alleviate such a grim outlook, the administration has implemented what it calls "creative strategic thinking" through the Six Big Ideas task forces that were appointed last May.

"Given the budget, we have a one to two year window of opportunity to think about ways to make the college better and also restructure it so as to bring in revenue but, at the same time, improve the quality of programs," Dahl said. "Our main goal is protect academic quality and retain full-time faculty."

In the coming weeks, following Dahl's review of the forces' interim reports from the summer, students will have the opportunity to join the Six Big Ideas task forces.

Despite the obstacles, neither Dahl nor Milroy believe the current budget crisis has a negative impact on the quality of education offered to students.

"What we've been trying to do is mitigate the impact this all has on the core budget, which is the stuff that puts students in the classroom," Milroy said. "However, in the long term, we have to come up with structural solutions, otherwise the quality of this place will suffer."