Tag Archive | "SUNY Stony Brook"

Local Officials Want an Independent College, University Intends to Keep It

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By Bryan Boyhan

The future of the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University does not lie with Stony Brook at all, according to a group of local elected officials and students.

Instead, the campus should become a fully independent college of the state university system.

The proclamation came last Thursday as the most recent salvo in an attempt to keep the campus open as a full time, residential college, and local officials have asked to meet with university officials to negotiate a deal to purchase the development rights to the college’s 82 acres.

University officials responded this week they would be open to a meeting, but showed little sign they would be willing to surrender the campus.

Two weeks ago, Stony Brook University, which has owned the campus for four years, made the sudden announcement that it planned to close most of the buildings on campus, leaving only two programs, marine sciences and the graduate program in writing, and two buildings. All other students, university president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley said, would be welcome on the main campus. As of this week 273 students of the 373 full timers on campus had begun the paperwork for the transition, the university said. The motivation for the closing is financial, said Dr. Stanley, who argues that significant cuts in state funding have left the university no other choice. He is expected to make a total of about $54 million in cuts to meet the short fall, about $7 million of which would come from the cuts at the Southampton campus.

But during a press conference last week underneath the college’s iconic windmill, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and other officials laid out a plan that would call for the Town of Southampton to purchase the development rights to the 82 acre campus using millions in Community Preservation Fund money. That acquisition, argued Thiele, would more than satisfy the university’s financial concerns, and guarantee the campus would be used for educational purposes.

In addition, said Thiele, he would help spearhead a movement to take the campus away from Stony Brook University.

“The current administration at Stony Brook doesn’t believe in Southampton,” said Thiele in an interview. The assemblyman has said the university underwent a shift when former president Shirley Strum Kenny — who championed the establishment of a sustainable sciences program at the local college when the state bought the campus from Long Island University — retired last year. The university, now headed by Dr. Stanley, has taken to re-positioning itself as a research facility, said Thiele, and the local campus, with more of a humanities-based curriculum, does not fit into that design.

Indeed, said Thiele, the administration at Stony Brook has resented the money Southampton has received.

In response, Dr. Stanley and State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher wrote this week: “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.”

In front of an audience of more than a hundred students and staff members, a parade of local officials last week promised they would work to secure the campus as an independent institution.

“Using Community Preservation Fund money is an ideal way of preserving Southampton College,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst to cheers. “We want to preserve it not just because of the college, but because these 82 acres are very important to us.”

It was not lost on the audience that, prior to the state stepping in to buy the school in 2006 — ironically orchestrated by Thiele, State Senator Ken LaValle and Congressman Tim Bishop — LIU had considered selling the campus to developers.

According to a letter of proposal sent to Dr. Stanley and Chancellor Zimpher last week, the open space on campus would yield about 40-45 developable units. Thiele, who helped author the legislation, said the Community Preservation Fund — which has yielded over $600 million for the five East End towns since its inception in 1999 — allows for such a purchase, and, further, the development rights could be sold to developers who wish to increase density in other parts of the town more suitable for development, thereby replenishing the money spent for the campus.

The first step will be for the group of local officials to have the land appraised; but for the proposal to work, Thiele et al need a willing seller, and the reply this week would imply the university is not willing to give up the property. Thiele said the battle is being fought on two fronts. Locally, on campus, students have waged a fight that includes demonstrations and are preparing a suit against the university and the state. In Albany, said Thiele, he and LaValle are working to persuade their peers to provide some language in the upcoming budget that would allow the school to remain open as a four-year residential facility. The university, said Thiele, has paid lobbyists working to counter them.

“The president of the university and the chancellor are not from New York State and they don’t understand New York,” LaValle said to an appreciative crowd last Thursday. “And they don’t understand that New Yorkers fight for what they want.”

University officials are open to talks, but appear committed to maintaining the campus.

“We fully intend to continue the use of the campus and we are engaged in discussions about how to best utilize Southampton’s facilities,” wrote Stanley and Zimpher. “Accordingly, we welcome ideas for the Southampton site that are beneficial and will maximize taxpayer investment. In fact, this is at the top of every meeting agenda concerning Southampton.”

They have suggested meeting in the coming week.

Saving a Campus

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The proposed closing by SUNY Stony Brook of much of its Southampton campus has much to do with Stony Brook University not being what it was supposed to become: a well-rounded state university center.

In the 1960s, when Stony Brook was founded, the SUNY plan was for it to become a version here of institutions like the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor or University of Wisconsin at Madison. Instead, it became a school focused on research into hard sciences. As a reporter, I covered the early years of Stony Brook U. and witnessed a succession of physicists who became its president giving it this direction.

A big break occurred in 1994 when Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny, an English scholar and former president of Queens College, became president. She sought to change its culture, to humanize it and get the school focused far more on students. She had no choice. She related to me that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education threatened to lift Stony Brook’s accreditation unless it paid far greater attention to teaching.

In 2005, after Long Island University decided to close its Southampton College and a drive began, led by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Kenneth LaValle, to have SUNY take over the campus and have it emphasize environmental studies, Dr. Kenny embraced the idea. She worked to make it a branch of Stony Brook.

But with Dr. Kenny’s retirement last year, Stony Brook again has a research scientist as president. “He is all about science and research,” said Mr. Thiele last week about Dr. Samuel Stanley, previously vice chancellor for research at Washington University. “Shirley’s broad view of what Stony Brook should be is no more.”

For Stony Brook, shutting most of Stony Brook Southampton “is not just a budget matter,” complained Mr. Thiele. “The most disturbing thing” about Dr. Stanley’s visit to the campus last week to address students, faculty and staff was what Mr. Thiele said was his declaration that even if the state “came through with money,” he would not alter his decision.

It is an outrageous decision. Southampton Stony Brook was just beginning to flower — from now 525 students to an expected 800 this fall and in few years to 2,000. The state has spent $78 million to purchase and renovate the campus.

Its program of small classes, personal attention and an environmental mission works.

Zack Wagner-Herbert, 22, of North Haven (whom I’ve known since he was born) has gone to other colleges but he loves going to Stony Brook Southampton.

“It’s small, the teachers are good, a lot of the students are committed to sustainability, to the environmental field. And that’s a field for the future.”

It sure is.

But Stony Brook University is far more interested in what has become another extension: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

In 1998, after the Department of Energy fired the group that ran BNL in the wake of the radioactive mess made at the laboratory including years of leaks from its main nuclear reactor, Stony Brook University and Battelle Memorial Laboratory in Ohio took over operating BNL.

That reactor and a smaller one, also found to be leaking poisons into the Long Island groundwater, have been closed. But in recent times, BNL has begun to stress anew nuclear power research. It is awash in money. BNL received hundreds of millions of dollars in 2009 and this year under the “economic stimulus” American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

What a societal commentary: hundreds of millions of tax dollars for BNL while the East End’s only four-year campus, dedicated to the environment, so appropriate for this area, would be all but shuttered.

What can be done to save Stony Brook Southampton? Mr. Thiele hopes for a “public outcry.” He says “a good citizens’ lawsuit” based on the state spending $78 million and now scuttling what it invested all that money on is called for. He vows legislative action in Albany. He says a good course would be having the campus re-established as a SUNY college of its own, separate from Stony Brook. Says an “outraged” Mr. LaValle: “I will do everything in my power to protect and preserve what so many of us recognize as a jewel on the East End of Long Island.”

Litigation Likely Over Southampton Campus

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By Bryan Boyhan

Last year, Katie Osiecki took the money her parents had saved for her college education and bought a house in Southampton. Instead of spending money on a private school education, she decided she wanted to go to the Southampton Campus of Stony Brook University, the state school that last week announced it was about to shut down almost all of the local campus to help meet a $55 million shortfall, which university officials say is largely due to state funding cuts.

Osiecki, a 2009 Pierson High School graduate, in a letter to the university’s president this week, said “Not only have I spent my savings on a house because I thought I would be spending the next three years going to school across the street, I also fell in love with a school that has acted like a second home for me for almost two semesters.”

The campus, she raved, had small class sizes, had teachers that were easily accessible and was where she felt her contributions were meaningful. She now feels betrayed.

“Within one night and an hour-and-a-half talk I felt like my dreams were crushed,” said Osiecki, a freshman in the school’s pioneering environmental design policy and planning program. “My life was going in a direction that couldn’t have been better for me and with one decision that was completely out of my control it was changed.”

Osiecki’s sentiments are similar to those of many on campus this week — including staff and faculty — who were stunned to learn of the sudden decision to shut all but a couple of buildings on campus by the end of this summer. The only programs that will be left are classes in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, plus the summer’s Southampton Writers Workshop. The recently renovated dorms, library and fine arts center will all be closed.

In response to the closing, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a graduate of the campus when it was owned by Long Island University, and State Senator Ken LaValle have asked state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to investigate fraud on the part of Stony Brook University, alleging that university officials deceived incoming students.

Thiele and LaValle were instrumental in having the state purchase the campus when LIU was preparing to sell it to a real estate developer four years ago and have been heralded as heroes for saving it as an educational facility.

Both men say their offices have been flooded with complaints from parents and students regarding what they are calling “deceptive acts and practices” on the part of the university.

In particular, they say complaints have charged that parents and students were told prior to enrollment the campus and its programs were in no danger of being closed or eliminated because of the state’s fiscal problems.

“Without exception, Stony Brook made representations to these students and parents that SBS would not be closed or its unique environmental sustainability program eliminated,” they said in letters to DiNapoli and Cuomo. “In some cases, these representations were made just days before the closure announcement.”

For his part university president Stanley, who issued an op-ed piece to local media on Tuesday, said the school was forced to make difficult choices in face of a 20 percent cut in help from the state, and is working to make the best of a bad situation, including offering Southampton campus students the opportunity to transfer to the main campus in Stony Brook, including priority housing in dormitories. Failing that, the university will offer a refund to those students who choose to leave.

Ultimately though, it appears that Osiecki and the others are caught in a political battle between the state’s university system and the state legislature.

“Our hands were tied by the massive cuts in state funding and the restrictions we face in controlling our own finances,” said Dr. Stanley, who argued the state university system should be able to dictate its own tuition rates, rather than having them overseen by the state legislature. Stanley said other public universities in the nation, such as the University of Michigan and Penn State, set their own rates. But the New York State legislature will not allow this. When the state finally raised rates in 2009 after six years, contends Stanley, the state kept most of the money for itself to alleviate its own budget problems.

Thiele said the battle is not limited to investigations, but will also likely include a lawsuit on behalf of students, their families and alumni.

“I just finished interviewing a lawfirm for possible action,” said Thiele this week.

“We won’t go down without a fight,” concluded Osiecki in her letter.

Officials, Students Will Fight to Keep Southampton Campus Fully Open

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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.