By Karl Grossman
The decision by a state Supreme Court judge that Stony Brook University acted illegally in shuttering the Stony Brook Southampton campus was strong. Justice Paul Baisley, Jr. “annulled” the closing and “enjoined” the university from taking any further action to close the campus.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, in whose district the campus sits, said “pursuant to the court decision, we will seek the re-opening of the Southampton campus.”
“Outlaw University” was a headline on the judge’s decision. This reflected well the judgment on how Stony Brook U.—led by its president, Dr. Samuel Stanley—ordered the closing of the campus.
The reaction of the Stony Brook administration didn’t refute this. A central issue in the lawsuit, brought by Stony Brook Southampton students, was that state Education Law “requires the Stony Brook Council to review and make recommendations on ‘major plans’ that affected SUNY Stony Brook,” noted the judge in his decision. He agreed and found that the Stony Brook Council did not do this when it came to the closing of Stony Brook Southampton.
In response, the university administration issued a statement declaring that Dr. Stanley, on May 11, at a Stony Brook Council meeting, “apprised the council…about both the budgetary impact of residential operations at Southampton, and his intention to relocate a number of academic programs from Southampton to the Stony Brook campus.”
Yes, but Dr. Stanley’s announcement of the closing of Stony Brook Southampton was made more than a month before—on April 7.
The judge, in his August 27 ruling, pointed out that the Education Law states “the operations and affairs of each state-operated institution of the state university shall be supervised locally by a council consisting of ten members.” It is supposed to “review all major plans of the head of such institution” and this includes “care, custody and management of lands, grounds, building and equipment.” This is a “statutory mandate,” he emphasized.
And, indeed, when Stony Brook University in 2005 took over what had been LIU’s Southampton College, the council “passed a formal resolution expressing its strong support for the acquisition.” The “acquisition of the Southampton campus was acknowledged by respondents to be a ‘major plan’ involving the council’s statutory review-and-recommend duty and authority.” But not its closing — and thus the law was broken.
Declared Mr. Thiele in a press release: “The students of the Southampton campus are to be congratulated for taking action against this unfair, ill-considered, and now illegal action to close their school. They have fought for their rights and won. In the process they have benefited us all”
“Stony Brook University made the decision behind closed doors to shut down the Southampton campus.” And “not only” was there no consultation with the Stony Brook Council “as required by law” said Mr. Thiele, but also “a failure to consult with elected officials, community leaders, students and even administrators at the Southampton campus. The entire process lacked transparency and openness. The reason is obvious. The closure of the school cannot be defended in an open discussion.”
“New York State has invested $78 million at the Southampton campus,” he continued. “That investment was beginning to bear fruit.” The “school was well on its way to meeting the ultimate goal of 2,000 students.” It “was succeeding.”
But “a new Stony Brook president with a hidden agenda to close the campus had to lie to the public to justify his decision,” said Mr. Thiele, skewering Dr. Stanley on numerous grounds.
What’s next? Will the university council — nine of its members appointed by the governor — stand up and function independently. Or will it now just rubber-stamp Dr. Stanley’s decision? The council hired Dr. Stanley. Does this mean it has to stick with his whopper of a bad decision? In recent years we have seen how so many corporate boards became lapdogs of management, not watchdogs. Will the Stony Brook Council take a different stance on Stony Brook Southampton? We hope so.