SUNY Cuts Resemble 2018 Proposals

Students protest proposed reductions in majors in front of the Lanford House on Central Avenue on Thursday. P-J photo by M.J. Stafford

Diversity means a great deal to Bridget Brown. It is one of the reasons she chose to continue her education at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

While majoring in English adolescence education, she embraced a minor in Spanish as a way to bridge a communication gap. “I taught English in Mexico this summer because of this university,” said the sophomore from Buffalo on Wednesday afternoon. “Fredonia helped me do this.”

Minutes after university President Stephen Kolison exited the stage in the Rosch Recital Hall, Brown was one of many who felt shutout. Decisions at the university that impact her future came as a major disappointment and left the Buffalo resident upset and angered.

She was not alone.

On Thursday afternoon, 200 students marched throughout campus to express their displeasure regarding the announcement that 13 degree programs were under consideration for elimination as the institution faces a $10 million deficit. Majors on the chopping block include: early childhood education from birth to grade 2, mathematics for grades five to nine, visual arts in ceramics, photography, sculpture and art history, French and its adolescence education program, Spanish and its adolescence education program, philosophy, sociology and industrial management.

University officials note these offerings represent 15% of all majors at the campus but have a combined enrollment of just 74 students, or 2.2% of the undergraduate population.

Though a shock factor was evident with some faculty and students, Fredonia’s fiscal situation has been well documented even before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In an interview with the OBSERVER last week, Kolison said the timeline on these decisions will ramp up at the start of the spring semester. “We have processes that we have to go through,” he said. “We’re going to start … as soon as we get back from the holidays.”

Kolison also pointed to similar plans that date back to 2018 that was led by then President Virginia Horvath under the moniker of Procedures for Emergency Program Reduction/Elimination.

During that time, 20 undergraduate and graduate degree programs were proposed for elimination or reduction as well as the reduction or elimination of three administrative and support services and eight administrative offices are being considered for reduction or elimination. After faculty protest, however, the plan was not seen through.

“The interesting thing is while we conducted our analysis independently it lines very well with that study. … It is regrettable that the university did not move forward (in 2018), because we would be further ahead,” Kolison said.

Shrinking enrollment has been a challenge for other SUNY schools as well, specifically Buffalo State and Potsdam, which in September announced the reduction of 14 majors. Private schools also are struggling.

The College Of St. Rose in Albany announced last week it would close after the spring semester. Cazenovia College, which was located in Central New York, closed its doors on June 23. It noted a troubling landscape that led to its demise on its website.

“The business realities that led to this extremely difficult decision were accelerated by the global pandemic and skyrocketing inflation,” the statement said. “The population of college-aged individuals had been shrinking, making it hard for small private colleges like Cazenovia to maintain enrollment levels. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically impacted recruitment and fundraising efforts while increasing economic burdens for the college.”

Enrollment at Fredonia, once as high as 5,400 in 2009 is currently at 3,236 for the fall semester. Those plummeting numbers are the driving force for the road map that is being termed as the “True Blue Transformation.”

Kolison noted that student numbers at the campus were highly impacted by COVID during the last three years. After announcing what he considered a “difficult and painful” path, the president is now urging comment from other stakeholders at the university.

“There’s going to be a lot of debate,” he said. “We truly believe this is the right thing to do for the university,” he said.

Brown is not as optimistic. She sees the reductions as damaging the university’s mission.

“I came here for the English and Spanish and now the Spanish department is going to be no longer. … We’re going to be the last generation for all of this,” she said while shedding some tears. “We need these languages … We need individuals who can teach these languages. English is the only language we’re going to have at Fredonia.

“That’s not diverse.”


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