Staff Editorial: SUNY schools must have greater fiscal autonomy

Gov. David Paterson's budget proposal for the coming fiscal year should come before the state legislature by the end of the month. In it is another $150 million in cuts to SUNY, which would leave Geneseo with at least a $3.8 million budget gap itself in the upcoming year.

This comes as the latest indication that New York's state government is financially unable to provide the support that SUNY needs to fulfill its mission to residents of New York. In light of seeing that many SUNY campuses, including Geneseo, can no longer provide the same quality education under these budgetary constraints, Paterson has proposed the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act.

The bill essentially transfers power and responsibility from the state legislature to SUNY, resulting in greater autonomy for individual campuses. This is something that, in light of the atrocious financial and political climate New York public higher education finds itself in at the moment, we support.

The bill would allow SUNY schools to autonomously set differentiated tuition, enter into public/private partnerships and would remove much of the bureaucratic red tape that slows down many campus projects.

Of course, it comes with safeguards to protect SUNY's commitment to affordability in the face of allowing individual campuses to raise tuition. We know our market. No SUNY school is about to raise tuition up to $30,000 per year.

But the real kicker: your tuition money would go straight to the school you're paying to attend as opposed to the state legislature to be appropriated later.

This seems like common sense to us. When you pay your tuition, you should rest assured that the money you pay goes towards your education. The way the system is currently set up, that is not the case.

But this bill comes with both gain and loss. While individual schools gain autonomy, the very status of SUNY as a system of public higher education is threatened. This bill is another step towards the privatization of higher education in New York State. Should it pass, there will be even less pressure on the state government to fund SUNY since they've generously given us the power to raise our own tuition and fund ourselves.

We've been backed into a corner by a monster, and the only way out is to take the path offered up by the beast itself. So, insofar as SUNY finds itself in a situation where the only way to manage these atrocious cuts is by embracing this new autonomy, we too embrace it.