President David Skorton sat down with The Sun on Feb. 4 and discuseed a proposed reduction in New York State funding. On Feb. 1, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo released his budget, which included a 12 percent cut of the state’s allocation to Cornell’s contract colleges.
The Sun: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his budget and the cuts to higher education. What have you heard from professors, provosts? Will this significantly affect the changes that were already being laid out?
President David Skorton: I have heard from people in the administration who were involved with this. Having been through higher public education, this is a tough one, this [28 percent over four years] taken out of the state appropriation. State appropriation is around 10 percent of state operating funds, so it is three points out of the University’s budget — that might not sound like a lot, but it is concentrated in four of the University’s colleges. The cuts are especially difficult for [the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences] right now because [Cuomo] has also recommended reductions of direct funding for certain direct projects — so I’m very, very concerned about this. We’re just starting to get our arms around what our strategy might be.
There are really three elements I’m concerned about: the effect on quality of education, because of potential effects on our ability to hire and our ability to do other resource allocations to keep the education programs. CALS is an enormous college, and the best in its class with many storied programs, and the number one priority is to maintain all levels of educational excellence.
Second is how it will affect our ability to serve the state. In upstate New York, as you may or may not know, food and agriculture is still the biggest industry ... We serve that industry in a big way, especially CALS and the Vet School, and so I’m very concerned about that.
And thirdly, right now it doesn’t appear to be at risk, but after decades of waiting for facility upgrades in CALS and the Vet School, especially in CALS in Stocking Hall and Warren Hall, the governor’s budget did not touch capital expenditures, which is a relief. I’m grateful for that, but I’m still nervous about [funding for capital expenditures] until the budget gets through.
So, I cant imagine taking 28 percent away from anything and having no effects, that would be disingenuous to say. But we have to be smart about the way we administer and fund colleges to minimize effects.
And as the tuition increases, the same dollar increases that come out as a bigger percentage for in-state students, of course could be worse. There are some state schools around the country that are having wild increases in tuition, even bigger than ours. And ours was bigger than I wished it was. But we have to guard against that solution to the problem, which is balancing it on the backs of students and their families.
Tuition is already our biggest source of revenue for the University — even with all the resources, even with all the state support and philanthropy, students still pay more than any other single source of income to the University. I want to make sure we protect the students’ interests.