By Stephen DiFiore
The PSGA Student Senate passed its budget for the 2019-2020 academic year - but the decision to cut its funding for NYPIRG by 25 percent raised questions about transparency and PSGA priorities.
For the current year, NYPIRG was allocated a total of $44,288, or $6 per student per semester. Next year, its allocation will be reduced to $33,200, or $4 per student per semester--what amounts to more than a 25 percent decrease.The cost per student is a 33 percent cut, but the expected increase in enrollment for next year will result in a 25 percent aggregate cut.
All grant funding to NYPIRG from all schools, including Purchase, is made directly to NYPIRG's central statewide organization. This separates it from clubs and organizations that are funded and overseen directly by the PSGA. In other words, the funding for the Purchase NYPIRG chapter comes from NYPIRG's statewide organization, which receives money from student governments at participating schools such as Purchase. The money does not go directly from the PSGA to the Purchase chapter.
Finance Coordinator John Sullivan said that these decisions were not easy, but were necessary to finance other initiatives -- such as higher fees to the Purchase College Association, the fiscal agent of the PSGA, and a rising minimum wage for student employees.
During the discussions, Senator Charlie Caspari (LAS), who also sits on NYPIRG’s statewide Board of directors and the incoming PSGA Senate Chair, asked PSGA Advisor and Associate Director of the Office of Community Engagement Caitlin Houlihan, who signs NYPIRG’s yearly contract, if she spoke with NYPIRG staff at all about the cut.
Houlihan said that she had a meeting with Kevin Dugan, the regional supervisor for NYPIRG, where they discussed figures from other schools who have NYPIRG chapters.
However, Kevin Dugan said that while they did discuss figures from other schools, the numbers he gave her did not justify this cut. He also said that the topic of a cut never came up during his meeting with Houlihan.
“Other schools have similar or higher allocations,” Dugan said. “We were not informed of this decision beforehand.”
Caitlin Houlihan did not respond to a request for comment.
Caspari, who abstained from voting, explained his decision to do so in a statement to the Phoenix.
“I could not in good conscience vote for a budget that cut funding for NYPIRG so drastically without what I think would have been proper discussion of it with people involved with NYPIRG either in an official capacity or volunteers who benefit from the chapter’s activities,” he said. “After all the work that Elisabeth [Lareau, the Project Coordinator for Purchase NYPIRG] has put in this year and how much the chapter has expanded and how successful our efforts have been this year, it seems very untimely to cut our funding now. I also felt that there might be some concern of conflict of interest being on the Board of Directors for NYPIRG and the PSGA Senate.”
One of NYPIRG’s biggest accomplishments this year was registering over 1,000 students to vote; the effort was partially responsible for SUNY Purchase winning the SUNY Student Assembly Civic Engagement Award.
Senator Steve Kollias (Comm.) motioned to table the vote for a later meeting so that there could be more discussion; however, the motion failed.
“NYPIRG is a vital organization,” Kollias said. “The advocacy work that NYPIRG does is critical to Purchase’s environment.”
Kollias added that cuts should not have been made without further discussion on the matter.
“I just didn’t feel that it should have been cut that much for a program that does so much on campus,” he said, adding that it was a big concern for senators at the meeting. “That was an issue for me.”
According to multiple sources who were at the meeting, Sullivan and Houlihan characterized any attempt to delay the vote as “irresponsible.”
Caspari added that, “Even if we did table it to discuss NYPIRG funding, they would not change cuts anyways.”
However, even people who ended up voting for the budget as proposed said that it was a difficult decision.
Senator Jessica Gambino (LAS), who also sits on NYPIRG’s Board, said that she also did not like the cuts, but that there was not much of a choice because any money that was restored toward NYPIRG’s grant would have to be taken out of another fund such Culture Shock or something else.
“It’s a lose-lose situation,” Gambino said. “You have to make cuts somewhere.”
Gambino added that she does support NYPIRG getting as much funding as possible but said that the limited resources of the PSGA would not allow it.
“We want that extra $10,000 to pay for [NYPIRG] salaries,” she said, but “You can’t make everyone happy.”
Additionally, Sullivan said during the meeting that NYPIRG is not the only grant that will take a hit next year. The Intramural grants will drop from a total of $46,000 to $36,000. The Office of Community Engagement and and Purchase College Emergency Medical Service grants will face no significant cut.
Dugan said it is unclear about how this cut will affect NYPIRG’s programming until their budget is finalized in August, but said that they will try to continue providing their services regardless.
“We’re happy to be at Purchase, we love working with the PSGA, we will continue advocating for the rights of students at Purchase and all across New York State.”
Kollias encouraged any student who supports NYPIRG to come to the Senate meetings and say so. Meetings allow for public comments at the end.
“For any student that has been part of NYPIRG, come to the Senate meetings,” Kollias said. “Vocalize your concerns.”
The Senate meets every Wednesday in the Presidential Conference Room on the third floor of the Student Services Building.
Editor’s note: DiFiore is a former intern and Board member for NYPIRG and the Managing Editor of the Phoenix, a paid student employee position of the PSGA.