The State University of New York at Potsdam may eliminate 14 academic programs—including its bachelor’s degrees in Spanish, French and physics—amid a “$9 million structural deficit,” the institution announced last week.
The other degree offerings proposed to be “phased out over the next three to four academic years,” according to the campus’s website, would be the bachelor’s degrees in art history, arts management, biochemistry, dance, philosophy, public health and theater, plus two bachelor’s degrees (B.A. and B.S.) in chemistry and master’s degrees in music performance and public health.
“Current active students, as of Sept. 19, 2023, will still be able to complete their degrees,” the campus said on its website.
SUNY at Potsdam will offer a voluntary separation program for employees, it said, and in another possible cost-saving measure will create a working group “to review the campus footprint, to analyze infrastructure and make recommendations for the reuse and/or possible closure of underutilized spaces.” Inside Higher Ed requested an interview about the proposed cuts Monday, but the university’s public relations director instead referred us to the website and a recorded news conference.
Gregory Gardner, the SUNY at Potsdam Faculty Senate chair, said the Senate hasn’t yet issued a statement on the proposed cuts, but he said the body doesn’t have the ability to stop them. Gardner said approval of the cuts ultimately lies with SUNY’s system chancellor—John B. King Jr., a former education secretary in the Obama administration, who has expressed support for the cuts.
SUNY policy makes a distinction between deactivation and discontinuance of programs and, for discontinuance, it says, “No programs may be discontinued without formal approval by the University Board of Trustees.” But Lane Filler, a SUNY system spokesman, said the board has designated to the SUNY system provost’s office the power to make final decisions on program discontinuations.
In SUNY at Potsdam’s announcement last week, King said the campus president “has provided a thoughtful, difficult and absolutely necessary approach that will set SUNY Potsdam on a path toward financial health and growth. The campus has an incredible 207-year history and has provided an excellent education at every step.”
Gardner said, “I do not understand the specifics of the programs that were chosen for discontinuance. I’ve asked the administration for the data that was used.”
But Gardner, a professor of business administration, said he does understand the need to cut expenses.
“Our enrollment has dropped steadily for the last 10 years or so, and during that time the administration has made very little effort to try and reduce spending,” he said. Enrollment has dropped from almost 4,000 students to roughly 2,500, according to Gardner, but there are about the same number of people to teach them.
“There’s essentially no more room to cut anything else significantly, so now we have to begin reducing our head count,” he said.