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Stanley: Failed Tuition Control Bill Will Mean More Cuts

Stony Brook University president, reacting to the state’s decision to table a bill that would let the school raise its tuition rates, says work force could be trimmed.

Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. on Wednesday warned that a decision by state lawmakers to back away from a bill that would have given the school power to set its own tuition rates will lead to painful cuts to work force and programs at the university.

While state legislators were able to pass on Tuesday a $136 million budget loaded with cuts to public education, the elimination of sales tax exemptions and cuts to the Environmental Protection Fund, they decided not to vote on the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, the so-called SUNY empowerment bill, which would have allowed Stony Brook University and other state schools to set their own tuition rates.

"With passage of this new budget ...the lack of any increase in tuition revenue, or the regulatory relief and enhanced entrepreneurial flexibility that PHEEIA promised, will force us to make some very difficult decisions," Stanley said in a statement. "Work force reductions and additional programmatic cuts ... will undoubtedly follow."

Stanley did not say where he would make those cuts.

The school president also said the state's budget puts cuts in state aid to Stony Brook at $60 million over the past three years, forcing choices like the university's decision in April to stop accepting new undergraduate applications and eliminate the residential program at its Southampton campus and to close one of its Manhattan locations.

"We are disappointed that the State missed the chance to enact the Empowerment Act during this budget cycle, and urge the legislatures and their leaders to stay true to the promise for a three-way agreement on PHEEIA in the early fall," Stanley said.

Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D, East Setauket) had supported the act, which he said would have allowed SUNY schools to keep tuition dollars on the campuses themselves and not let the state funnel money from tuition hikes into its general fund.

"The cuts, and most particularly I'm concerned about the University of Stony Brook, are just massive, and will have a devastating impact on the institution," Englebright said. "The empowerment act was designed to bring in new revenue."

Opponents to the bill, however, were concerned that allowing a handful of State University of New York schools to raise tuition goes against the mission of the SUNY system, which is to give middle class families the option of an affordable college education.

Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick (D, New York), who is Chair of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee, opposed allowing SUNY campuses the ability to set their own tuition rates.

"[It] undermines what was the brilliant strategy behind SUNY," Glick said. "Our opposition to the tuition differential is based on accessibility and affordability ...so that the function of the public university to be available to the average person is not eroded."

But the postponement of the bill may also mean an additional $150 million loss to the university, the amount James Simons, the former Stony Brook professor turned hedge fund manager who founded Renaissance Technologies, had pledged to donate to the school if the SUNY empowerment bill passed.

Simons, who was out of the country when the state made its decision, according to an assistant, could not be reached for comment.

Glick and Englebright said the state legislature would be revisiting the SUNY empowerment bill later this year.

"There was an agreement to sit down and roll up the sleeves and go to work on this as soon as the budget was over," Englebright said.

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