Potsdam village board fails to pass resolution in support of SUNY Potsdam

Posted 4/2/24

POTSDAM — A resolution urging the state to pay off SUNY Potsdam’s $9 million deficit and supporting an Assembly bill which would change how SUNY Trustees are chosen, died on the floor at …

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Potsdam village board fails to pass resolution in support of SUNY Potsdam


POTSDAM — A resolution urging the state to pay off SUNY Potsdam’s $9 million deficit and supporting an Assembly bill which would change how SUNY Trustees are chosen, died on the floor at a recent village board meeting.

The board held the vote at their meeting Monday, April 1, but the “Resolution for SUNY campuses in need” fell short of the required votes needed to pass.

With one trustee absent, the resolution vote was two in favor and one against. Village Mayor Alexandra Jacobs Wilke abstained due to her employment with the college. The resolution required a 3-vote majority which was not available Monday night.

The resolution, which was recently passed by the town board unanimously, calls on the state legislature to “allocate $139 million directly to campuses to close campus budget deficits at SUNY Potsdam and other cash-starved SUNY campuses and $110 million to enhance student programs and services.”

It also urges the legislature to support passage of bill A.6430 (Wallace), which would reduce the number of Trustees the governor appoints and allow the Temporary President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly to each appoint four Trustees to ensure disbursement of allocations to the SUNY system as advocated and intended by the State Legislature for their home districts.

Mayor abstains but supports

During her opening comments at the top of the meeting Potsdam Village Mayor Alexandra Jacobs Wilke, who works at SUNY Potsdam as the director of public relations for the school, said she would be abstaining from the resolution of support for SUNY Potsdam later on, she still voiced support for the the schools and pointed out the impact the colleges have on the region.

The financial struggles that are happening at SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson hit very close to home for Wilke, she said.

“I completely support the need to advocate for our campuses and to let people at the federal and state level know just how important they are,” Wilke said.

“So while the campuses work through their own difficulties and the demographic changes happening in the Northeast, certainly my heart goes out to those impacted.”

Voting against

During the vote, Village Trustees Warr and Sharon Williams both voted for the resolution.

However, Village Trustee Monique Tirion voted against the measure.

“I’m for education,” said Tirion, a Clarkson professor. “If I were to vote ‘aye’ however, I feel like I would be telling SUNY Potsdam administration, whom I’ve never met, that they are unnecessary and have done unnecessary things. I’m accusing the trustees of not distributing things. I am accusing faculty and professional union legislators of supporting their home districts at the expense of other things and I do not feel myself to be sufficiently educated on these matters that I think its not appropriate for me on a local municipality as this to support this type of language in fact. So I vote no,” Tirion said.

“Hold on, the way I read this Monique is that we are not condemning people at Potsdam state, we are condemning the directions they’ve been given from the level in Albany to them for the ramifications of the decisions they’re being forced to make,” Village Trustee Steve Warr said. “Where if this was equitably done to begin with, they wouldn’t be forced into the situation.”

“So, it’s not a condemnation of them. It’s a condemnation of the people in Albany who have exacerbated the problem on so many levels, to appoint people that don’t where they are appointed and to make decisions they shouldn’t make,” Warr said. “So flip that script around a little bit. I don’t think we are condemning the state, we are condemning the people who have forced them to make these decisions and telling them ‘you will do this’ and they don’t have a choice. So I beg you to reconsider based on that.”

“I will write to these people because I am sickened by the loss of the normal school and of all the schools we have lost,” Tirion said. “But I am very distressed at the tone of communication that people have adopted this day and age. And I don’t want to push anyone to the wall and make them look…. It’s not me, okay. So I stand by my decision,” Tirion said.

Warr suggested that Wilke may not be able to abstain in the absence of a quorum vote and might be led to vote on the measure, however it was determined that the mayor is only compelled to vote instead of abstaining in the event of a tie vote.

Therefore, the resolution died on the floor two votes in support to one against, with the mayor abstaining.

Wilke said later after the meeting that the resolution could be raised again in the current form or with edits at a future meeting when all members are present.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Faculty comments

Earlier during public comment at the meeting, Town board member Lynn Hall, a SUNY Potsdam professor, urged village support for the resolution supporting SUNY Potsdam.

“The SUNY system was set up to bring economic growth to rural areas and you’ll hear people talk about the cliff of enrollment and that’s just one part of the story,” Hall said.

Hall said people are not going to college because it has become so expensive to go.

She said that education budgets have been cut by state level politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“So here we are, we have deficits in 19 of the campuses across the state,” she said. “It's going to have a major impact in rural communities.”

Hall said the state does have money to address the deficit issues facing Potsdam and other campuses but that money is instead concentrated in the university centers downstate instead of on rural campuses like Potsdam.

Heather Sullivan Catlin, SUNY Potsdam faculty member, echoed Hall’s call for support for the resolution and said she thinks there is a move on the state’s part to defund the SUNY system over time.

“I think there is a larger systemic plan unfolding that the average person is not aware of,” she said. “One piece of it is, in general, the disinvestment of state government from public education.”

Catlin said this has been very gradual over the years and has resulted in concentrating the student population to a greater degree in university centers instead of on rural campuses like Potsdam’s.

“New York State has been bribing people to go to the urban centers for more than 15 years,” Village Trustee Steve Warr said later during the meeting. Warr said the state has tried to lure businesses away from rural areas as well, with promises of cheap power or tax breaks. He said it was a case of where the votes are. “They’ve abandoned the rural areas entirely. And that’s because of voting.”