By Najib Aminy
In her final convocation as President, Shirley Strum Kenny addressed a packed audience of Stony Brook faculty and students alike, highlighting moments of her fourteen-year term. Emphasizing the importance of Stony Brook University to New York State, President Kenny dedicated a significant amount of her speech lamenting the budget cuts threatening both Stony Brook and the SUNY budget.
Stony Brook has already sustained a $7.4 million loss as part of the $50 million cut from the SUNY budget and is anticipating another $5.5 million cut. Kenny said the problem that Stony Brook and other SUNY and CUNY Universities face is not a “temporary discomfort,” but a need to state the importance of such institutions. “They are not mere social gestures; they are not safety nets; they are economic and social bedrock. They are our hope for the future, our guarantee against losing our primacy as a State,” said the 73-year-old Texas native.
Kenny went over the progression and evolution of Stony Brook University to emphasize the importance of why funding is so important. Citing an economic study on the Long Island economy, Kenny called Stony Brook University the economic engine of Long Island. With $1.8 billion invested into the budget, Stony Brook is responsible for a return of $4.7 billion in the economic activity of Long Island. “And besides that, we are educating the next generation of scientists and business leaders,” added Kenny.
In terms of academia, Kenny boasted statistics of an increasing freshman class alongside a positive correlation of increased SAT scores. Along side the growing freshman class, Stony Brook’s number of applicants has doubled since Kenny’s inception as President in 1994; jumping up 103%, making Stony Brook the SUNY school with the highest number of applicants. “Only 37 four-year institutions in the country had more applications than Stony Brook; we had more applications than Stanford, Harvard, or Yale among others,” said Kenny.
The most important event, as Kenny described in her fourteen years, was Stony Brook’s admittance to the Association of American Universities in 2001, a prestigious organization formed in 1900 to “declare the equality of top American universities with those in Europe and to work together to ensure high quality in U.S. graduate degrees,” according to its mission statement. Stony Brook joins the likes of Harvard, Princeton, MIT in addition to the only one other SUNY school, the University of Buffalo. “For 44 years our aspiration had been election to this association of the the top research universities, public and private, in North America.” Since its inception alongside Texas A&M in 2001, no other university has been admitted.
In touching upon the many University projects she had worked on, such as the remodeling of the Javits Lecture Hall, the deconstruction of the Bridge to Nowhere, the renovation of the Academic Mall, and the building up of a Division-I athletic program, President Kenny mentioned how student tuition at Stony Brook has increased only once in the past thirteen years, the last of which was in 2003. Throughout that time, the undergraduate student population increased 40% from 17,200 to 24,000. With the increase of students came the increase of faculty and staff which rose 24% in the same period, ultimately from 11,200 to 13,900 paid professionals. “Clearly we need funding appropriate to our research mission—more money per student, not less,” said Kenny.
With the strong possibility of a net $13 million cut in the Stony Brook budget, changes will inevitably occur to make up for the loss of money. Tuition is speculated to increase sharply after the November election. In talks of the cuts, Kenny said, “if our present dire situation is a temporary—one year—problem, we can handle it, though unquestionably with discomfort, by redirecting some of our funding intended for equipment services.” However, if the budget dilemma prolongs into the coming years, “we have a very different situation,” said Kenny. Believing in keeping tuition as low as possible for students, Kenny is, as she said, “angry when students end up getting large tuition increases when the State decreases support for the university.” What stifles Kenny more is the fact that students could wind up paying an increased tuition for the same, if not reduced services that is currently provided, due to the budget cuts.
In closing her final State of the University address, President Kenny said the educational institutions of America, especially in New York, are facing troubling challenges and added that financial support of public higher education must be stressed to every local politician. “What we do here is vitally important. Those we teach here are the nation’s hope for tomorrow. The research we do is key to health and prosperity in the future. But we must have the funding necessary to achieve our mission,” said Kenny closing off her speech to a thunderous applause and standing ovation.