Just a facade
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
UB is faking it.
On the outside, UB has it all together: NYSUNY 2020 passed in June 2011 and was signed into law. Former President John. B. Simpson’s ambitious UB 2020 plan was finally able to come to fruition with help from the state. Under this law, UB is able to raise tuition, hire more world-class faculty and fund expansive building projects across all three campuses.
What could sound better than SUNY’s crown jewel growing academically and financially? It’s a great idea – in theory.
But UB 2020 – at least this year – hasn’t done a whole lot, and the university still sings its praises.
On Sept. 19, President Satish Tripathi released a UB 2020 progress report in which he answered common questions about the ongoing plan. It seems these answers are a bit stretched and success is exaggerated.
“UB 2020 is not just a plan on paper; it’s in full motion,” Tripathi wrote. “This is a time of tremendous momentum and energy at UB, and we are making tangible progress every day.”
He noted that 85 faculty – from all disciplines – joined the UB community this fall, bringing even more bright minds to the campus. In five years, the university will be able to hire 250 new faculty members with help from the 2020 plan.
Yet during Monday’s UB Council meeting, new Provost Charles Zukoski announced that while UB gained these 85 new minds, the university didn’t really gain any more faculty – the new bodies just filled the spots of professors who retired or left for other reasons.
The university has actually lost more faculty than it hired this year, according to Zukoski. How is UB 2020 building a stronger faculty and, in turn, a stronger university if we can’t attract new minds? Don’t we have the money from the state and tuition increases?
Actually, the answer is no. According to Zukoski, even though students are paying an extra $300 in tuition per year, UB still isn’t financially ready to handle an influx in hiring; the university not only has to pay the salaries of these professors, but they each get a start-up package – a dowry, of sorts – that makes UB worth their while. These could bear hefty price tags, depending on whom the university is trying to attract, according to Zukoski.
UB had roughly 20,000 undergraduates last year. If you collected $300 from each student – and estimate the undergrad student body grew by at least 1,000 as the total number of students rose to about 30,000– it would amount to over $6 million in revenue for the university. Where is that money going?
We can’t forget the expansive building projects. Kapoor Hall, home to the pharmacy school, just opened on South Campus on Sept. 27. It cost $62 million, with $46 million coming from New York State.
Construction of the new medical campus on the already-standing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus should start in the fall of 2013; phase one of the project alone will cost $375 million.
And these aren’t the only expansion projects.
In total, UB 2020 will cost $5 billion. Clearly the extra $300 from each student for five years could never add up to that much. The rest comes from New York State taxpayers, though you won’t hear Tripathi preaching that.
During Monday’s meeting, Tripathi also noted that at least 35 percent of UB’s student body is eligible for financial help. Yet students don’t receive their aid on time, and many forfeit basic living needs in order to pay tuition by the due date. Last year’s director of financial aid, Jennifer Pollard, even remarked that students were the ones to blame.
“Financial aid is there to pay your tuition, fees, books and help with any additional expenses you have, but I think a lot of students believe it’s just there to help support their lifestyle,” Pollard told The Spectrum. “We hear a lot of times that students can’t pay their rent, they can’t eat, get their car or are getting collection calls, and they put a lot of pressure on our offices. But we’re really here to supplement paying for their education … not responsible for paying their education.”
This year, the financial aid office rolled out a new financial aid advising program to curb problems before they start. It’s yet to be determined if the project is successful.
But anything is successful as long as tuition revenue is going up, right?
UB seems to only care about getting world-class faculty and state-of-the-art buildings to look good on paper; when it comes down to it, students still aren’t getting the education advertised by the ambitious 2020 plan and are left in the dust as UB tries to compete with the nation’s top schools.
UB rose 15 spots on U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings list. But even Tripathi remarked these rankings mean nothing during Monday’s meeting.
Do they mean nothing? The university’s actions contradict Tripathi’s words.