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Aug 24, 2010 5:47 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Deadline looms for Stony Brook Southampton

Aug 24, 2010 5:47 PM

The first and only time Francesca Denault visited Stony Brook University’s main campus, she was part of a large group of Stony Brook Southampton students who were protesting Draconian cuts to their satellite campus.

The 21-year-old from Wingdale, New York, did not know it at the time, but that April day was something of an unofficial orientation. This fall, she will be one of approximately 300 former Stony Brook Southampton students forced to attend classes at the main campus in Stony Brook once a package of spending cuts take effect at the end of this month. At that time, Stony Brook Southampton will be shuttering its dorms and stripping the Shinnecock Hills campus of its core sustainability curriculum.

“Last year was probably the best year of my college experience, and now I have to start all over again,” said Ms. Denault, who had studied ecosystems and human impact at Stony Brook Southampton after transferring from Pace University last fall.

Stony Brook University purchased the 82-acre campus from Long Island University for $35 million in 2006, and ran it since then as a small residential campus geared toward environmental sustainability. In April, without warning, the university announced that it would be closing most of the programs there on August 31, citing crippling cuts in state funding. Stony Brook officials have stated that they expect to save an estimated $6.7 million per year by cutting back the satellite campus, explaining that their state funding has dropped by $55 million over the past two years. Up until the cuts, Stony Brook was spending about $10 million annually to keep Stony Brook Southampton open, according to university officials.

The announcement spurred protests from the student body and outcries from local officials like State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who launched a multifaceted campaign to preserve the campus they helped create four years earlier.

But as Tuesday, August 31, fast approaches, it seems that several attempts by the lawmakers and students to preserve the campus have fallen short. A State Supreme Court judge has yet to consider a lawsuit filed by a group of Stony Brook Southampton students who were seeking to block the cuts, according to Mr. Thiele.

“We have not gotten a decision on the lawsuit yet,” said Mr. Thiele, a graduate of the campus when it was run as Southampton College and who helped guide the students in their legal action. “Even if we got one tomorrow, it’s not going to help us for September.”

The state budget passed earlier this month without an amendment by Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle that would have mandated that Stony Brook Southampton continue in its prior form, according to the legislators. “As far as I was concerned, this amendment to the budget was the thing that would have been the easiest way to turn things around,” Mr. LaValle said.

But he said the amendment never made it in because the legislature considered the budget in a “piecemeal” fashion this year, rather than all at once. That process did not allow for changes, he said.

“When we got to higher education, there was just appropriations for SUNY and CUNY and for tuition assistance, and that was it,” Mr. LaValle said. “End of story. We couldn’t play around with it to get our piece in, nor were there ever discussions.”

Mr. LaValle also noted that letters he and Mr. Thiele sent to Albany—asking State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to investigate Stony Brook University’s handling of the cuts—went unanswered.

In the end, one possibility remains: a bill introduced by Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle in July that would create a task force to explore the idea of untethering Stony Brook Southampton from Stony Brook University and making it its own SUNY school. That bill may be voted on in the coming months, the legislators said.

As this month’s deadline looms, only about 2 inches of water remain in a large fish tank in the hallway of Stony Brook Southampton’s student center. Nearby, the campus’s barren gift shop is blocked off by a steel grate wall. A sign on the door of the library reminds students that all books must be returned by August 31. They are all not-so-subtle reminders of what that date brings.

The future of the campus remains unclear. Stony Brook University has convened a task force of university officials and East End residents to help decide how Stony Brook should use the site going forward. At the first meeting of the task force in July, members discussed the possibility of putting graduate arts programs, like the existing graduate program in writing, at the center of Stony Brook Southampton.

While wary of the committee, Mr. Thiele said he is willing to work with its members.

“Listen, I mean, given Stony Brook’s record here, I think there’s a healthy skepticism from all of us about this committee,” he said. “It’s largely dominated by Stony Brook bureaucrats. There’s a substantial amount of stakeholders that aren’t involved in the committee.”

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A local politician filed a lawsuit in the same Supreme Court to get her name on the election ballot & the court rendered a decsion within days because of the looming ballot deadline. These students filed in that court in May - facing an August 31 deadline. On August 26, theyre still waiting for a decision. Some deadlines matter - some dont.
By ts (71), southampton on Aug 27, 10 3:33 AM
Perhaps unrealistic and only a dream, I really hoped Fred Thiele (and others) would be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and save Southampton. I find the politicians do their best work just before Election Day!!!
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Aug 27, 10 8:12 AM
never should have let the state get involved to begin with. Southampton College prosepered years ago as a private institution.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Aug 27, 10 9:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
I was a sophomore at Southampton when it closed the first time in 2005. I have been reading the current news with great frustration and disappointment. I also had the best years of my college education that final year... so I understand very clearly what these students are going through. Even five years later, leaving Southampton was one of the worst moments in my life and my college education was never the same (I did go on to get my degree elsewhere, not at CW Post or Stony Brook). It's a shame ...more
By emh (1), East Meadow on Aug 29, 10 5:34 PM