By Bryan Boyhan
In an effort to close a growing budget gap, Stony Brook University intends to shut down most of its Southampton campus by the end of this summer. The university is faced with a 20 percent cut in state aid and is forced to make nearly $55 million in cuts, according to university president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, Jr.
State assemblyman Fred Thiele, state senator Ken Lavalle and congressman Tim Bishop met with university officials on Tuesday afternoon, in a closed door session, when Stanley presented the plan to close down the dorms and eliminate all programs except the graduate writing program and classes for the marine science program — legacies of the period LIU was at the campus. The balance of the existing programs would be continued at the main campus.
“It is their intention to close everything,” said Thiele Tuesday night at a meeting of the Noyac Civic Council where he was guest speaker. “No students on campus, no faculty on campus. That tells you everything you need to know about the state. Invest $78 million, and then do nothing with it.”
There will be a presence on the campus, although scaled back considerably, and far removed from the vision that was drawn out in recent years when Stony Brook heralded the campus as a place where they would train young professionals in the sustainable sciences.
As proposed, only a couple hundred students would attend classes there in one building, Chancellors Hall. The recently renovated dormitories, library and fine arts buildings would all be closed by the end of the summer. The future of the staff, including recently-hired dean, Dr. Mary Pearl, is in question. Thiele predicted Dr. Pearl would likely be absorbed on the main campus, as would some others on staff.
“But the biggest part of the budget is personnel. If they’re making cuts, people are going to lose their jobs,” said Thiele.
New York State purchased the campus from LIU in 2005 for $35 million, after alumni, local politicians and community members fought a protracted battle to keep the campus an educational institution when LIU announced its intention to sell. Since then, they’ve invested approximately $43 million more, said Thiele, himself a campus grad, to rehabilitate buildings on the campus.
“This is a terrible waste. [The campus] is an excellent opportunity to train people in a way to meet the needs of a new economy,” said Thiele, who along with LaValle and Bishop were instrumental in getting the state to purchase the school.
The assemblyman denied the campus had been a failure, and insisted enrolment was up.
“The number of applications rose by 54 percent, and the number of students on campus was expected to increase by 20 percent,” said Thiele, adding they planned to have 800 in 2011. He added that the average SAT scores of those being accepted had increased by about 20 points.
“It’s not that Southampton was not giving a return on investment,” said the assemblyman; “it’s because budget problems are everywhere and Stony Brook had to make cuts.”
Stony Brook’s president, Dr. Stanley, painted a darker picture.
“The business plan that has been in place is not sustainable,” said Dr. Stanley in an interview yesterday. He pointed out that, at its height, LIU had 1,500 students on campus and charged $20,000 in tuition and claimed the school was unprofitable.
“We had 470 students and charged $5,000,” said Dr. Stanley. “It cannot sustain itself, unless the state is willing to contribute more money.”
“We have barriers,” he observed, and noted there was no endowment for the campus.
Asked what criteria he would use to consider making Southampton a full, residential campus again, he said it would need to offer an “academically significant” program and “be financially sustainable.”
Thiele confided there were two major strikes against the local campus. The first is that Southampton is like the “new stepchild” in the university system and there were those at the main campus who felt their programs should have been getting the money that was going to Southampton.
“It was the same issue when LIU owned the campus,” said Thiele. “It feels like we’re the outpost out here.”
In these tight times, he said, Stony Brook had to make cuts and it seems they wanted to sacrifice Southampton.
The second problem is that the campus is caught in what Thiele called “Albany politics.”
The state university system, he said, wants to offer different tuition rates at different schools, and it wants to set those rates without any oversight.
“The legislature is leery of that,” said Thiele.
Thiele suggested that some in the legislature feel the university system is proposing cuts “all over the place” in an effort to leverage political pressure that would lead to allowing them to set their own tuition rates.
“They’re caught in SUNY politics and Stony Brook politics, and are being sacrificed in that,” said Thiele.
Even though there will be fewer students, the university hopes to find other ways to use the campus, including hosting conferences and perhaps offering special classes, said Dr. Stanley.
“I do not foresee selling it,” he added.
Thiele said he has not given up on keeping the campus open full time.
“We’re going to have a hell of a fight,” he said, not excluding filing suit.