By Bryan Boyhan
While local officials would like to see the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University become an independent college of the state university system, the Stony Brook University administration appears unwilling to give up the school they acquired four years ago. A meeting set for Thursday between the two parties may lead to a resolution.
At least, said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele yesterday, he hopes they can find a way to keep the campus operating as a full time, four-year residential school.
Three weeks ago, Stony Brook University’s president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley announced he would be closing most of the campus, including the dormitories and recently renovated library, and move all programs except marine sciences classes and the masters writing program, to the main campus. The move, he said, was an effort to close a budget gap that has resulted from a dramatic cut of $54 million in state aid. The closure would result in an estimated savings of about $7 million.
Local officials, including Thiele, State Senator Ken Lavalle and Congressman Tim Bishop — all who helped shepherd the deal for the state to acquire the campus from Long Island University in 2006 — argue the plan disrupts the college careers of the nearly 400 students currently on campus, and the roughly 400 more who were expected there this fall. In addition, it removes from the East End the only local four-year school, and one with a much heralded progressive program in the sustainable sciences.
Two weeks ago Thiele and Lavalle were on campus with officials from the Town of Southampton to announce the town would be interested in buying the development rights for the 82 acres on campus, the revenues of which, they said, would more than satisfy the financial needs of the university. In addition, the officials proposed the school become independent of Stony Brook and requested a meeting with university officials.
Dr. Stanley agreed, and in a letter last week proposed today’s meeting, although he gave no indication they were willing to surrender the campus.
In the letter, Dr. Stanley and State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher wrote: “We too are concerned about the future of Southampton and remain committed to its students. Most importantly, despite repeated claims to the contrary, the Southampton campus will remain open. To this end, we will maintain the Southampton location as a vital and vibrant site for teaching and research, most notably at the pioneering Marine Station, home of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and through the renowned Southampton Writers Workshop. Currently, plans are in the works for several other SUNY campuses to make productive and expanded use of Southampton’s facilities.”
This week Thiele questioned the possibility of other state schools using the local campus.
“That’s been part of the party line for a while,” said Thiele. “But when you look at it, nothing has materialized.”
The letter also observes it costs about $30,000 annually to educate one student at the college.
“With SUNY’s tuition set at $4,970, and average State support for all campuses (excluding community colleges) of $5,500 per student, we are left with an unfunded balance of $19,530 per student,” the administrators write.
They further argue that Long Island University had a similar problem and were unsuccessful in balancing their budget.
Thiele dismissed the comparison between a private and public school, and said the underlying issue is political.
“Southampton is being used by SUNY,” the assemblyman asserted. “It’s all about their attempt to get control of their campuses’ tuitions.”
Thiele said the state university system has made a proposal for determining their own tuition rates for all the campuses, and in the last budget cycle did not even ask for more money, instead asking the state to pass legislation giving SUNY autonomy.
“That failed, and now they’re just going to hold their breath,” said Thiele.
Asked about his hope for today’s meeting’s outcome, Thiele said: “We want to talk about what we’ve proposed; but I’m willing to discuss any proposal that will keep the campus open as a full time, four-year school.”