By Andrew Fraley
With Stony Brook facing a massive $20 million budget cut, graduate students calling for fairer stipends and more than 150 professors, adjuncts and faculty expressing their lack of confidence in the university’s leadership, the departure of two leading professors in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) couldn’t have come at a worse time for the university. With their departure, Stony Brook, and CAS in particular, is facing a continually diminishing teaching base for graduates and undergraduates. The two professors got a chance to explain their reasons for leaving, air their grievances with the university’s administration and suggest ways for improvement for the future.
A petition has been signed by over 150 university faculty members over the past few weeks, describing their complaints about the egregious mismanagement of the school by president Shirley Strum Kelly (The details about this can be found in the award winning article, “Profs accuse Kenny of Failing Students,” by Matt Willemain in the previous issue of The Press). Among the signatures are those of Javier Auyero, an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department, and Thomas Klubock, an Associate Professor in the History Department. The two professors are leaving Stony Brook at the end of the semester; Auyero will be working at the University of Texas and Klubock at the University of Virginia next fall. Both of them share the same impressions that the petition details, and feel the university may be heading in the wrong direction.
Professor Auyero has been teaching at Stony Brook in the Sociology Department since 1998. He is leaving for the University of Texas this fall due to, among other things, a better offer that was made to him. “They made a very good offer, I basically thought it would be good for the family, my wife also got an offer. The impression I got was that Stony Brook could match the salary.” The university does not actively give raises. “[You] must always threaten to leave to get a suitable salary increase for living costs,” explained Auyero. Ultimately, he did not seek a counter offer from Stony Brook. The reason being that, although they matched his salary, Stony Brook could not match the research funds Texas offered. “I’ve always received funding from outside the university,” said Auyero. He explained that lack of funding was one of the primary reasons he was leaving Stony Brook.
In addition, Auyero explained that the lack of support for graduate students was also a major problem at Stony Brook. “Graduate students receive four years of poor funding, versus five, six, even seven years of good funding elsewhere.” The grad students, as Auyero explains, lack the necessary funding, stipends and training that Stony Brook ought to be providing them. “Graduate students need seven years [of support for education],” said Auyero. “Stony Brook only provides four.” Stony Brook also doesn’t provide money during the summer months, while other peer institutions, including Texas, do. “Texas provides probably thirty to forty percent more stipends, for five to six years,” stated Auyero. Compared to Stony Brook, Texas provides better opportunities and working conditions for graduate students and faculty alike.
The treatment of undergraduates is another problem, according to Auyero. The number of undergraduates has increased drastically at the school, while the number of professors has remained the same or, in the case of CAS, decreased. “I’ve been teaching the very same class [Sociology of Latin America] since I started in 1998. the class started with about 90 students and two teaching assistants. Last semester it was 218 students, and still only two TA’s.” The number of faculty members has shrunk since he started in 1998 as well; from twenty-three to sixteen. Last year, in fact, the university instituted a hiring freeze in CAS that they insisted not be called a freeze. “It was a freeze, but it wasn’t a freeze,” said Auyero, “it was surreal.”
Another reason that Auyero is leaving is that he feels the administration is squandering the potential of the Sociology Department, and CAS in general. “We have a wonderful collection of faculty in the [Sociology] Department…Three months ago, with two other colleagues, we received a grant for a quarter million dollars from the National Science Foundation [for work on food shortage and collective action],” explained Auyero. “We really have the potential to be one of the best departments in the country, but the administration doesn’t realize it.” Auyero went on to describe the way in which the university has focused its energy on acquiring new buildings and campuses, such as Southampton and Manhattan, as “imperialistic”. He added that Stony Brook had become a “donut university;” it’s surrounded by buildings, but has nothing of substance in the middle.
Professor Thomas Klubock has had similar experiences to Professor Auyero, and shared similar viewpoints. While he stressed that he was leaving for the University of Virginia for purely personal reasons, he nevertheless completely agreed with the sentiments held by all who had signed the petition. Klubock is a professor in the Latin American History, and called the department here at Stony Brook “first rate, despite the relative lack of funding.” Klubock has had similar experiences of lack of research funding, graduate student support and growing student-to-faculty ratios. In his seven years teaching here, Klubock has taught the same class, and has watched enrollment for it grow steadily over the years. “[Within the past five years] I’ve had to teach two classes in cafeterias. It’s disgraceful.” Even recitations, which are instituted in order personalize the class and split up large lectures, are filling up with over thirty students every semester. “It’s a disservice to undergraduates to put them in these positions,” explained Klubock. He ended with saying that Stony Brook needs more funding for research and more support for its graduate students. “Were I to stay at Stony Brook, I would join my colleagues in making these demands.”