Tag Archive | "Southampton College"

Thiele Proposes New Zone for Higher Ed. in Southampton

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By Claire Walla

According to New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the fate of the college campus in Southampton has been put into question more than once in the last decade, which, in his opinion, is disconcerting.

To alleviate any uncertainty that may be swelling around that campus, especially in recent years, Thiele went to the Southampton Town Board last Friday, April 13 to propose legislation that would create a University-25 Zoning District in Southampton Town, specifically where Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus now sits.

There’s been a college campus in Southampton since 1963, when Long Island University built facilities there. And there the campus remained, relatively untouched, until 2005 when Long Island University announced it was for sale.

According to Thiele, a moratorium was then placed on the campus while a planning study was conducted. A year later, Stony Brook University stepped in and took over.

“When Stony Brook bought the campus [in 2006], all was well with the world,” he joked. “Then, of course, the sustainability program was transported to [the main campus], the dorms were closed and it was undetermined what the fate of the campus would be.”

In a surprising, last-minute decision, Stony Brook University decided to close all undergraduate operations at the oceanside campus at the tail end of the 2009-2010 academic year. The only operations that remained were graduate programs in creative writing and marine sciences.

After much debate and backlash from both students and lawmakers (Assemblyman Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle leading the fight), Stony Brook rescinded its decision in 2011, made a formal apology, and is now making plans to bring programs back to the campus.

The push to create an educational zoning district would be to ensure that the land always be used for higher education, no matter what.

It’s called University-25 because a minimum of 25 acres would be needed before the law could be enacted.  Although, at 82 acres, the Southampton property well exceeds that limitation; all 82 acres would fall under the town’s new educational zoning law, if enacted.

While Thiele said the property could theoretically be sub-divided at some point, he added that he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which that would take place.  Stony Brook University, which currently owns the land, is actually in support of the new zoning district.

Any voices of dissent could certainly challenge the new code (if enacted), Thiele continued, which would prompt the town the show that there’s “rational basis” for the zoning district to be enacted.

“I think the fact that it’s been a college for 50 years is certainly rational basis!” he said.

At the work session, Thiele said the thought of taking action to preserve this land for educational (and related) uses only came to him in a relatively random fashion.

“Quite frankly, I was doing research for something else when I came across Ithaca’s zoning ordinance,” Thiele explained. Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, has a zoning district reserved for higher education. He continued, “I had one of those ‘eureka!’ moments and said, ‘This would be great for the Southampton campus.’”

Because this would be town-wide legislation, Thiele pointed out that it would apply to the Long Island University campus in Riverhead, as well. When asked whether or not this zoning legislation would affect Stony Brook’s ability to build a hospital in Southampton, Thiele said it would not. The hospital would be regarded as a “related activity.”

The Southampton Town Board would now have to adopt a resolution to create the proposed University-25 Zoning District.

“In my view, this is a good goal, to [also work toward] maintaining that open space,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming. “I want to do whatever we can to preserve that.”

According to the town’s Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray, a public hearing on the matter will be set for May 22.

The Southampton Campus Vision: Making Artists and Writers

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By Emily J. Weitz

On the sprawling campus of Stony Brook Southampton, a steady buzz can be heard. While many who drive past on Route 27 wonder what’s to become of the campus, the truth is it’s already on its way. With 300 students freshly sated from a summer of creating everything from novels to short films, the secret is leaking out. With another hundred enrolled in the year-round MFA Program, the campus promises to keep buzzing deep into the winter months.

“Part of the excitement,” says Associate Provost Robert Reeves, “is that a program like ours shows that the promise of the campus can be realized.”

Utilizing the brand new housing, the state-of-the-art library, the spacious theatre, and all the other newly updated facilities, the Stony Brook Southampton team plans to grow from the already-successful MFA in Writing and Literature to a Graduate Arts campus that encourages the pursuit of creative work from novels to films, from poetry to theatre.

“We’re expanding the MFA model to enter arenas of theatre and film and ultimately the visual arts,” says Reeves. “What the model is and why we’ve been successful is that we have the most distinguished faculty as part of our MFA program because people want to be a part of this.”

He gestures to the walls of his sunny office, adorned with photos of Billy Collins, Roger Rosenblatt, Meg Wolitzer, and the late Frank McCourt, and decorated with sketches by Jules Feiffer, all beloved faculty members.

Just as the programs in writing have drawn in some of the brightest writers of our time, Reeves is confident the programs in the arts will as well. Indeed, in the realm of theatre, it’s already been done. With Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman and Pulitzer Prize Nominee Jon Robin Baitz on faculty, the Playwriting Conference is firmly established. This past summer was the debut of the Directing Conference, and featured five of the most successful directors in the country, including Oscar, Emmy, and Tony-award winner Tony Walton. In the realm of filmmaking, Emmy Award-winner Mitchell Kriegman led the inaugural conference.

“The short films that resulted,” says Reeves, “had a seamless connection to the work in other genres. They all fall under the umbrella of storytelling.”

It’s this umbrella that will shelter the whole Graduate Arts Campus. It’s all about telling your story, whether you’re doing it with a film made on your cell phone, in a cartoon sketch, or through a poem. Basically, the Graduate Arts Campus is about giving students a wide variety of medium to explore the same question: What do you have to say?

“It’s all about artists trying to find a voice through telling stories,” says Reeves. “Technology has made it possible that a young filmmaker has the same opportunity to complete a story as a fiction writer does. We want to connect them all to the long established history of storytelling.”

But it’s also about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. While a student may enroll in the MFA program intending to write a novel, the student may discover his or her voice in a class on writing musicals or making short films.

“We’re trying to build a community that will support the enterprising artist who will be interdisciplinary, will work in different forms, and will take charge of his/her own art,” says Reeves. “There are no more gatekeepers. You don’t have to ask permission anymore. In publishing, the agents and editors used to hold all the power and now it’s changing — you don’t have to go through them to achieve your dreams. It’s a wonderful, exciting time. It’s the great democratization of art.”

Stony Brook Southampton, says Reeves, plans to be on the cutting edge of this democratization, when anyone can learn to harness their creativity and express themselves.

“There are great schools that are training students for things that no longer exist,” he said. “We are trying to come up with a way of thinking about art in a way that accommodates these changes that are on the way and not just the ones we see coming but the ones we don’t. We’re creating a flexible structure so we can participate in the changes.”

Part of that flexibility includes the way the workload is assigned.

“If you’re taking one workshop in the novel,” says Reeves, “it’s quite possible that that could take all your time. The creative process can consume all your waking hours.”

Having a faculty that understands that, and that nurtures a project through its completion instead of imposing unrealistic deadlines and distractions, is key.

Reeves also points out the inherent difference between the creative process and other pursuits. Being successful doesn’t necessarily mean “controlling this and analyzing that and meeting the expectations of the person at the front of the room,” he says. “In the creative process it’s not about being cautious. It’s about taking risks. It’s meeting a different standard.”

There is also a variety of ways to participate in the program. There’s the Southampton campus as well as a campus in Manhattan. There’s also a winter session in Florence, Italy and another launching this January in Kenya.

There’s also flexibility in the relationships students can form in the program. While the faculty members are successful in the professional world, they consider their students more like colleagues.

“There are no minor leagues in the arts,” says Reeves. “You have the same opportunity to succeed as someone who has written ten novels… It’s not about credentials. Art is something where all the academic credentials can’t save you.”

For example, one recent MFA graduate, Helen Simonson, saw her thesis, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, turn into a New York Times Bestseller. In the world of creativity, the line between student and master can get a little blurry.

In the future, Reeves sees a place for undergraduate studies on the campus in Southampton again, though not in a traditional way.

“I think we can leverage our strengths to bring undergraduates back to the campus through arts semesters,” he said. These would be project-based periods of study for juniors in college or people in their gap year or recent graduates who want to complete a project.

“Farther out than that, who knows?” Reeves muses. “There’s no reason we couldn’t have an arts campus for undergraduates someday.” But he emphasizes the need to grow organically and carefully, and to provide what students want and what the changing world requires.

Whatever classes spring up and whatever genres are explored, they will benefit from being side by side. “Your particular area of specialization is informed by trying other things,” says Reeves. “Writers would benefit [and did this past summer] by taking a course in improvisation for writers. Playwrights benefit from taking a course in writing a novel… The courses are about creativity itself. In all different realms, it feels the same in a way. You’re not trying to control the thing, but trying to get out of the way of it.”

Stony Brook University is established as one of the premier science and research institutions in the country. But Reeves argues that “What we do and our creative responses to the human condition are just as important as scientific inquiry. Creativity is one of the most complicated responses to the world.”

With the direction Stonybrook Southampton is taking, the East End is poised to once again lead a creative growth spurt in the coming years.

College Suit Settled

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By Claire Walla


More than a year after students of Stony Brook Southampton College pressed charges against Stony Brook University after university president Samuel Stanley closed the satellite campus without fair warning, all litigation has come to an end.

The settlement — agreed upon by the students involved, members of grassroots organization Save the College and officials of Stony Brook University — entails four main components: the university will pay for the students’ outstanding attorneys fees, the Sustainability Program at Stony Brook’s main campus will be guaranteed through 2014, the state university system will fund a sustainability conference at the Southampton Campus in 2014 and University President Samuel Stanley will formally apologize to the students who were impacted by the closing of the campus.

“It certainly wasn’t everything everyone wanted, but it was important to ensuring the future of the college and, certainly, from a point of view of justice, it was important for the students, who were very much wronged, to bring this to court—and to win,” said Assemblyman Fred Thiele this week.

Along with Senator Ken LaValle, Thiele has been instrumental in reestablishing activity on the satellite campus, which this year has been completely shuttered, save for graduate programs in writing and marine sciences. The campus is an important issue for both legislators, both of whom played pivotal roles in getting the State University of New York (SUNY) to purchase the campus from Long Island University back in 2006.

President Stanley announced the campus’ closure last April, just three months before the start of the coming school year, citing the impact of state budget cuts. He came under fire for the move in large part because he had failed to consult the school’s University Council before coming to his decision. By university law, the president is obligated to consult with the council before making any “major plans,” such as closing a campus.

“In a perfect world we would have brought the sustainability program back to Southampton. [It is now being bolstered on Stony Brook’s main campus.] That is the one disappointment here,” Thiele continued. “But, we did get justice for the students.”

Thiele said his goals while guiding students through their lawsuit were, first and foremost, to achieve justice; but also to assure that the program will continue.

Now, with much of the controversy behind them, both Thiele and LaValle are looking to the future of the campus.

In a press release last week, he announced $6.9 million had been re-appropriated to the Southampton campus for a new marine sciences building, and Stony Brook recently issued $7.5 million for a new student center. Construction on both projects is expected to start within a year. These contributions exemplify what Thiele referred to in the press release as an “ambitious vision” on the part of he and Senator LaValle “that would make the campus a busy academic hub benefiting all of Eastern Long Island.”

“I see now the potential for a very bright future,” Thiele continued. He said the arts program will be “the keystone” of the future of the college, but expanded programs in marine sciences, the creation of a sustainability institute and construction on a new medical facility that will bridge a partnership between the college and Southampton Hospital will see the school into the future.

Toward a Future Festival

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While unknown indie bands and seasoned rock ‘n roll vets from all across the U.S. were belting songs on the second day of the Escape to New York music festival this past weekend on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, the East End got wind of some very unfortunate news.

The Hamptons’ highly anticipated second act, MTK: the Music to Know festival, had come to an end—before it even had a chance to begin.

Sure enough, just days before it was scheduled to unfold atop the tarmac of the East Hampton Airport, the MTK: Music to Know festival was officially cancelled.  In keeping with the weekend’s suddenly dour turn of events (Day Three of E2NY was cancelled for weather-related reasons), MTK was abandoned.  As festival organizers proclaimed, ticket sales were just too low.

Like many other MTK festival hopefuls, we too were sad.

MTK not only promised to educate us isolated Long Islanders on the relevant new music of the day — the “music to know,” if you will — it promised to punctuate our summer with a large-scale event: two days’ worth of live music, good food, new trends and the opportunity to brush shoulders with thousands of people all gathering in the same place with one overarching goal: to have a good time.

We commend the ambition of those who backed the effort to make this festival happen. Yes, certainly for their creativity and their desire to infuse the East End with something (dare we say it?) hip — but, to be honest, mostly because we remember what it was like when we actually had the opportunity to attend such shows. There was the “All For the Sea” concert with the likes of James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet and Bob Dylan, which used to be held every year as a fundraiser for Southampton College. And then there was “Back to the Ranch” in Montauk, which showcased Paul Simon, among others.

The way MTK fizzled out of sight this past weekend, it seems there’s little hope the concert might make a resurgence next year. And while we would hate to see these efforts all for naught, even more importantly, we would hate to see the push to bring a music festival to the East End suddenly diminish.

Clearly, there’s a taste for something of this caliber here. (MTK did, in fact, manage to sell about 2,500 tickets, not to mention those that would have been purchased on the day of the concert itself.) Hopefully, this year’s MTK effort is just a taste of what we can look forward to in the future.

SUNY Trustees Approve Southampton Cuts

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By Claire Walla

On Wednesday, November 17 SUNY Trustees voted to ratify the decision made by SUNY Stony Brook President Dr. Samuel Stanley last April to shutter residential buildings at the university’s Southampton location and relocate undergraduate programs to the main campus.

This decision comes nearly three months after the New York State Supreme Court on August 30 effectively annulled Stanley’s decision last April, ruling that he did not act in compliance with state education laws, which require all “big decisions” to be presented to and receive recommendations from the university council. Even though the council eventually voted on October 4 to support Stanley’s decision, and even though the SUNY trustees recently voted the same, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle maintain that the university continues to defy the law.

“Stony Brook is consistently acting illegally,” Thiele said, adding that “[The trustees] ratified something that the court has already annulled.”
He and Senator LaValle will continue to challenge the university’s court case, which Thiele said he expects to see a final decision on by Christmas.

“A key pressure point for us is that, come January, Senator LaValle will probably become Chairman of the [state’s] Higher Education Commission,” Thiele explained. This is possible, he added, because the Republicans have taken control of the Senate, giving LaValle—a republican who lost his seat on this commission under the democratic majority—a leg up.

However, Thiele added, the court case is not the main issue at hand. “The ultimate goal is to get the campus reopened,” he said.

Though he and LaValle have already drafted legislation to turn the campus into a separate branch of the SUNY system, this is move is not likely to take place overnight. In the meantime, SBU has laid-out tentative plans for the space, like creating an arts campus or partnering with Southampton Hospital. These are plans Thiele said he and LaValle are willing to work with in order to get the campus functioning again.
“It’s still not going to be a fully operating campus by September—we’re not going to be able to attract new students in sizable numbers,” Thiele noted.

However, he added that “Senator LaValle and my goal is to put the next pieces in place by the next budget process.”

The environmental sustainability program was moved to the main Stony Brook campus at the beginning of this academic year, leaving only graduate programs in marine science and creative writing in Southampton.

Third Time a Charm?

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Founded in 1963 by Long Island University, the current Stony Brook Southampton campus was once Southampton College, an institution that produced 34 Fulbright scholars and boasted Kermit the Frog as its commencement speaker one year. From the early 1990s on, the college’s officials made a conscious decision to focus on the sciences and creating writing, abandoning the other humanities programs once found in their course catalogs. Despite this refocusing and the countless accolades the academics received, it was plagued by financial management troubles and by 2005 the campus was shuttered. All appeared to be lost, but then a little less than a year later, the State University of New York swooped in with a $35 million dollar check to buy the 81-acre campus. Since 2006, the university has slowly but surely developed a reputation for itself, once again for its strengths in the marine sciences and the writing program. Four years later, it appears the campus is in the same boat it was in when Long Island University was its patron. The student base is a mere 400, though it was expected to double, and the tuition rates are locked in place, and a bit too low for the operations.

And once again local officials and community members are stepping in to save this institution of higher learning, which harkens back to the Save the College at Southampton movement when Long Island University was leaving the area. A university is no doubt an asset to the South Fork community in a number of ways. As State Assemblyman Fred Thiele pointed out, it produces hundreds of professional jobs in an area that is limited in terms of these kinds of positions. Furthermore, it enriches the community and rounds it out. And having the campus in operation as a school is a much better idea than the alternative, an 82-acre condominium or hotel, which is slowly becoming a dime a dozen on the East End.

Though we have found the marine science and writing program to be top-notch, we agree with Thiele that the college would be served best by rounding out its offerings with a more liberal arts program. We see the campus as an unbelievable opportunity to cultivate the cultural and academic resources at the disposal of our community. A little while ago, there was talk of establishing a Shinnecock language program at the college. We feel this should be expanded to perhaps include a Native American studies department. As an historic area, perhaps there could be courses in historic architecture and preservation. Think of the possibilities with a hospitality program and the relationships that could be developed with the restaurant and hotel industries.

These are just a few ideas we have been toying with but linking the studies at the campus with the assets within the community we feel is a key aspect in making this institution sustainable. It is also important to foster a sense of community partnership, and while this has been achieved in dribs and drabs we would like to see the campus more fully integrated into the community. Perhaps, one step to facilitate this process would be to re-open the train station at the college to allow easier access to the campus from other parts of the East End and Long Island, though this will take some kind of partnership with the Long Island Rail Road.

However, the white elephant in the room regarding anything that happens to this campus is money. The last two incarnations of the school ended simply because of dollars and cents. Until we can be shown how the school will break even, or be economically viable, we will remain cautiously optimistic that this is a reasonable course and not a design for a two or three year educational operation.

Thiele et al Sit Down With Stony Brook Over College’s Future

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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.”