Colloquium kicks off inauguration week
“To say, as some have, that we might be better off without the state’s support when we can just get rid of the regulations and restrictions that come with the money is, in my view, reckless.”
UB’s Inauguration Week kicked off Monday with a lively discussion of a very serious matter: the financial challenges public research universities must grapple with as state funding levels continue to fall.
This budget belt-tightening can broadly impact universities such as UB, from the workload of faculty to the financial burden on parents, students and donors, D. Bruce Johnstone, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor and University Professor Emeritus, told participants at the SUNY Distinguished Professors Colloquium held in the Black Box Theatre in the Center for the Arts.
More than two-dozen UB faculty members who have achieved the SUNY Distinguished Professor rank attended the colloquium.
Whatever the impact, Johnstone said, public research universities will have to make some difficult decisions.
“The core instructional budgets at almost all public research universities—and certainly at SUNY’s four research universities and the rest of SUNY’s campuses—depend substantially on state funding from taxes, which is why we are in trouble,” said Johnstone, who served as keynote speaker for the colloquium.
While much of the remainder of Inauguration Week events will be celebratory, colloquium organizers said that President Satish K. Tripathi wanted to begin the festivities with an academic program focused on the university’s future while featuring some of UB’s top faculty members.
Tripathi will be formally invested as UB’s 15th president at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the Center for the Arts. Visit the Inauguration Week website for a recap of each day’s events.
Tripathi called Monday’s discussion “an amazing dialogue,” and noted that it is up to UB faculty to continue the dialogue and contemplate ways to improve the university to achieve its mission of “academic excellence.”
During his approximately 35-minute keynote address, Johnstone, a former SUNY chancellor and Buffalo State College president, said it’s expected that research universities will change with the advent of new technologies and new classes of students.
“I’m interested in and, frankly, disturbed at the prospect of a different kind of change, a change that, frankly, most of us will steadfastly resist, a change that we do not welcome and do not see as making our universities better in either our teaching or our scholarship: the possibility of profound changes that may be forced upon us, or at least on some of us, by a deep and worsening financial austerity, the end of which most of us who think a lot about university finance do not foresee,” he said.
Johnstone said that it does not appear that revenues will keep pace with the rising costs associated with operating a public research university.
“As a public university, we depend on state support,” he said, later adding, “To say, as some have, that we might be better off without the state’s support when we can just get rid of the regulations and restrictions that come with the money is, in my view, reckless.”
UB and similar institutions face several choices in how to handle these difficult financial times, whether by compensating for declining state support by hiking tuition, or by “doing less with less;” that is, reducing faculty and professional staff positions.
“I believe that this university can and will choose wisely under the leadership of our new president,” Johnstone said. “Academic excellence, I believe, is indeed compatible with any of these choices, even for those that I’ve identified as profound. It is probably not compatible with no choices or no changes at all.”
Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of English, commented on the issue of increasing faculty workload, saying that much of the university’s teaching is handled by adjuncts or graduate students. Jackson wondered if determining faculty members’ teaching assignments according to their scholarship productivity would yield any financial savings. He also asked whether consolidating certain positions among universities would save money, or if such changes would be cosmetic.
“I would have to say more cosmetic than long-term substantive,” Johnstone replied, adding, “you could drop a president or two or three systemwide and a couple executive assistants and some secretaries Little things like this, I think they all add up. (But) I don’t call it profound change.
“It’s not going to give us more faculty,” he continued, “but it might reduce some of the adjunct and part-time use that we’re not always totally proud of and let some of the senior professors who really consider themselves better teachers than cutting-edge scholars take the larger teaching load.”
Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher, director of the Newman Center at UB, closed the colloquium by asking that those in attendance take a look at a painting in the CFA by Harvey Breverman, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Visual Studies, that depicts a group of faculty members, presumably from different disciplines.
“I presume it was not posed. It was a dream, a vision of Harvey’s,” Keleher said, citing the need for more interdisciplinary collaboration at UB. “There isn’t a lot of interdisciplinary energy that’s shared that I see between faculty.”