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Aug 11, 2011 1:34 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

University Signs Settlement, Ending Stony Brook Southampton Lawsuit

Aug 16, 2011 4:40 PM

Stony Brook University officials signed a settlement last week that ended a lawsuit brought by students more than a year ago over the removal of environmental sustainability programs from Stony Brook Southampton, a decision blamed on significant state budget cuts that forced the relocation of hundreds of students.

The settlement, which was signed by the six students earlier this year, will include an apology from Stony Brook University, but will not reverse budget-cutting measures that relocated more than 300 students from the satellite campus in Shinnecock Hills to the university’s main campus in Stony Brook last year.

Katie Osiecki, a Sag Harbor native and one of the plaintiffs, said in a letter appearing in this week’s edition of The Press that she still considers the resolution a victory because Stony Brook University is now working to transform its satellite campus into an arts center.

“I believe it is incredibly important to have a college on the East End of Long Island, so I will walk away from this still believing in the story of David and Goliath,” she wrote in her letter.

Ms. Osiecki did not return calls seeking comment. The other plaintiffs are Nicole Altimari, Tara Linton, Dean Tarulli, Kathleen Furey and Martha Weller.

The agreement states that Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. will meet with the students either late this month or early next month in order to “apologize for the disruption” of their lives. The university has also committed to continuing sustainability education at the university’s main campus until spring 2014, when the last of the plaintiffs is expected to graduate.

In addition, the university will pay $5,000 toward the cost of a sustainability conference at Stony Brook Southampton in 2013, and $30,000 toward the students’ attorney’s fees, according to a copy of the settlement, which also states that the accord is not an “admission of liability or wrongdoing” by the university.

“We are gratified that an agreement has been reached, and President Stanley looks forward to the opportunity to meet with the students in the coming month,” Lauren Sheprow, a university spokeswoman, said in an email.

The students filed the lawsuit in May 2010, claiming that the university illegally planned to relocate the sustainability programs from Stony Brook Southampton to the main campus in Stony Brook as part of widespread budget cuts. At the time, university officials estimated that they could save $6.7 million a year by slashing programs at the Shinnecock Hills campus, noting that they were spending about $10 million annually to keep it open.

A State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of the students a few months later, but the university appealed the decision. The university also took actions to correct its legal error—a judge ruled that it had bypassed its own 10-member university council when deciding to slash spending, a move it later corrected—but the students’ attorneys challenged the action. Both motions were still outstanding when the settlement was reached.

“There was no possibility of a judge directing the university to reopen the campus,” said Russell Penzer, an attorney with the firm Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella & Yedid P.C., who represented the students. “That was not what was asked for in the lawsuit. We pointed out that the university did not go through the proper procedures in closing the campus. We prevailed on that.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a Southampton College alumnus who offered support and direction to the students, acknowledged that the agreement does not realize some of the students’ hopes of returning to the Shinnecock Hills campus.

“The fact that the university president has to apologize to the students, I think, makes the point about how poorly this decision was considered, made, implemented,” he said. “I consider that to be an important thing.

“From the students’ perspective, obviously,” he continued, “they did not get everything they wanted.”

But Mr. Thiele also expressed optimism about the future of the local campus. In a press release issued last week, he and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle said they are continuing to seek to create a non-profit Peconic Bay Region Sustainability Institute at the campus. Mr. Thiele also said in an interview that he hopes Stony Brook University’s sustainability conference becomes an annual event, and that the university continues to offer environmental sustainability majors at its main campus after 2014.

Stony Brook University officials, meanwhile, are moving ahead with plans to shift the focus of Stony Brook Southampton toward the arts and marine sciences. Southampton Hospital has also expressed interest in relocating to the 82-acre site.

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The university only has to issue an apology, hold a conference, and let the students graduate from the transplanted program? Oh, they did have to give the student's lawyers $30,000, so it all worked out. SUNY attorneys were paid with our tax dollars, as were the student's attorneys.
What about returning the College to full time active service to the community? Where is the political leadership?
By Tree Man (19), Southampton on Aug 11, 11 3:44 PM
2 members liked this comment
the lawyers were not paid with your tax dollars. the Stony Brook Foundation paid the bill. I wonder if the generous benefactors who support that charity know that their private donations are going to pay for the illegal activity of the stony brook president.
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 8, 11 7:54 PM
Now that this is over, the campus can move on. The early leadership of the SBS campus put all its eggs in the basket of being a sustainability program. Sustainability is important, and that was not a bad start as it's a relatively cheap major to pull off and definitely garnered media attention. But the campus needed more diversity in curriculum. Frankly, if Stony Brook Southampton merely kept all the traditional majors Southampton College of LIU had, at SUNY tuition rates, the campus would have ...more
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Aug 11, 11 4:01 PM
The SBS campus only had the sustainability & marine sciences programs just to start off with but it was adding much more. A nutritionist program was about to begin & the campus' 5 yr plan included the addition of nursing, social worker, & expanded arts programs. Stony Brooks new president shut the whole thing in year #3 before any of that diversity could be implemented.
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 15, 11 6:57 PM
theres not much diversity in an art college or one that has no students except a few dozen out of town visitors and adult artists.
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 8, 11 7:56 PM
" ...which states that it is not an “admission of liability or wrongdoing” by the university."

They must be taking lessons from Wall St.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 11, 11 5:38 PM
An apology is a step in the right direction, but the community is still in need of the restoration of programs on the Southampton Campus, where new buildings and a beautiful campus are under-utilized. Let Stony Brook University admit to having made a huge error, and bring back programs and curriculum as soon as possible. Barbara Goldowsky
By Pianofest (4), East Hampton NY on Aug 11, 11 6:56 PM
I kept expecting the community to be pressuring Stony Brook to reverse its decision & to be loudly voicing their outrage over Stony Brooks action ever since they announced the closure of that beautiful campus in April 2010. Never happened. Students, some legislators & one non-profit fought for that campus for over a year. Where was everybody else?
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 15, 11 7:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By dklughers (46), east Hampton on Aug 11, 11 8:38 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By dklughers (46), east Hampton on Aug 21, 11 3:56 PM
An apology does nothing for those of us who lost our jobs, the many of our students who dropped out of college because of SUNY's action, the crass disregard for our community and sorry but do you really think a graduate Arts campus is going to fix things? The MFA program still embedded on the campus played some very dirty pool to stay there. "They'll [the undergraduates] get over it," is what I heard one senior administrator say, who is still running things over there. Education IS Non-Negotiable--it ...more
By heatherdune (12), Hampton Bays on Aug 12, 11 8:36 AM
The MFA program is its own entity, and has its own pluses and minuses. I don't really get the husband-wife teams from Sag Harbor they seem to hire to put on middle school plays -- not sure what this has to do with a graduate MFA program where the typical student seems to be 57 years old -- but the Summer Writers Event is a great show. The other 11 months of the year, meh. But they do know how to politic, that's for sure, and, unlike most MFA programs, many of the graduates do get book deals. Did ...more
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Aug 14, 11 4:47 PM
Dear Mr. Suffolk:

The "middle school plays" you refer to are:

- Middle AND high school plays that are developed in writing programs taught to local middle and high school students by graduate students from the MFA Writing program on campus.

The MFA students guide the younger ones to develop critical thinking skills and confidence in their writing.
These teachers of "plays" are not only working writers but are earning their graduate degrees to teach.

So ...more
By concerned east ender (49), Sag Harbor on Aug 18, 11 3:44 PM
Okay, you know a few things and perhaps you misunderstand a few things. Things you don't understand: average age of MFA students is not 57 (tho not sure why you even mention this, does the number 57 mean something to you? do you have a problem taking mature students seriously as writers?) and 11 months of the year - the MFA program excels (as evidenced by student work getting published). For the record, the MFA had nothing to do with the radio station's demise (for that, see LIU and their exit deal ...more
By ImJustSayin (1), Bridgehampton on Aug 18, 11 3:48 PM
the focus should be that one program did not have to be destroyed to bring in the other. Both could have existed together & were supposed to be from the beginning. Mismanagement by Stonyt Brook all the way around.
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 24, 11 5:08 AM
What a total waste of time and money.
By scottj (3), Southampton on Aug 12, 11 9:56 AM
The university is obligated to pay for a STUDENT-RUN sustainability conference beginning in 2013 but it will have very few sustainability students left by then & it might not even have sustainaibility program at all by the following year. So how long is this even going to last? Most of these students will be graduated by 2013. Only a handul of new students are being admitted to the program this fall (in stark contrast to the hundreds that were admitted each fall when it was at Southampton). The ...more
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 15, 11 7:25 PM
Stony Brook is under the leadership of President Stanley, a medical doctor. It should be no suprise that the new mission of the university is to dedicate Stony Brook Southampton to the eventual relocation/acquisition of Southampton Hospital. This was stated by some Stony Brook Southampton students from day 1 of the turmoil. I am very disappointed with the settlement agreement. However, the land of many names, The Shinnecock Nation, LIU Southampton College or Stony Brook Southampton must continue ...more
By Jbots (1), Southampton on Aug 16, 11 12:58 AM
1 member liked this comment
he is a bio-medical researcher. board member of monsanto. connections to pfizer. more interested in university partnerships with corporate chemical research labs. good thing he lost in Court against his students. If they hadnt won & stopped him in his tracks, who knows what would have been put on that campus.
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 24, 11 5:15 AM
In regard to the “apology” that Stony Brook was to present to those affected by the discontinuance of the program at the Southampton Campus, I would like to let you know that only the 6 student petitioners are being “invited” to the apology now turned PR stunt.

The email sent to the 6 student petitioners does not say that Stanley is making an apology to anyone. What it does say is "Please join me and members of my senior staff on Monday, September 12 at 2:00 PM ...more
Sep 9, 11 12:05 PM appended by dklughers
correction- there was a motion not a finding for contempt of court
By dklughers (46), east Hampton on Sep 4, 11 12:05 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Binkster, Setauket on Nov 3, 11 10:24 AM