Budget gaps, a large student-to-faculty ratio, research grants and a young athletic program are just some of the issues that Stony Brook University’s fifth president, Dr. Samuel J. Stanley, will have to face.
Sitting down with student media on the first week of classes, Stanley addressed his plans and concerns for the university, highlighting the criticisms of SBU’s satellite campuses and addressing other initiatives. He also outlined his agenda, which includes a push for an increased flexible tuition, athletics and budget concerns.
For the past couple years, SBU has been recognized for its academic achievement. SBU was admitted into the Association for American Universities, an association of 62 leading public universities in the U.S. and Canada, earned a top 100 ranking by the U.S. News and World Report, and a one percent ranking in the world by The London Times Higher Education Supplement. Despite these accolades, there is one ranking that students remember most—happiness.
In the Princeton Review’s most recent college ranking list, SBU came in third for having the campus with the least happy students. “I am disappointed when I read it, and I’d rather we be number three the other way,” Stanley said. He added that he is trying to understand whether this is a small group of vocal students who are unhappy, or an accurate reflection of the entire campus. “If that’s the case I need to understand what would make that better.”
For Jasper Wilson, president of the Undergraduate Student Government and a senior, SBU has gotten better in spite of its flaws and consistently low rankings.
“Every year, SBU has gotten more and more fun,” said Wilson, who also plays for the SBU Men’s Rugby team. “When alumni come back, they are really surprised at how this place has changed.”
At the same time, Wilson said SBU is not like most other big campuses because of its location. “You are not going to have that crazy isolated school vibe because we are in the suburbs.”
Stanley, who acknowledged this concern, said that there are things beyond his control, especially geography. “Would it be nice to have a really student friendly village around us like an Ann Arbor?” Stanley hypothesized. “Do I have the power to kind of make that happen, I’m not sure, I kind of doubt it. I think it’s unlikely.”
After visiting his friends in both private and public schools, Wilson is proud to see SBU’s school spirit growing, with the increase in red seen on campus. He said President Stanley should focus on this spirit that stems from programs such as athletics when dealing with the student atmosphere. “He should continue on this new growth of red pride and keep the pace of supporting athletics where it is at.”
The athletic program at SBU is young, 30 years young. It represents its youth in the newly renovated administrative offices, walking in to the scent of new leather furniture and the sight of still plastic wrapped plasma screen televisions hanging on the walls.
But what does a football team situated in the northeast and playing in the Big South have to do with bettering SBU? Why should professors care about what women’s soccer does? What is the significance of Joe Nathan Field?
“On many levels, athletics is the front porch to a university, it’s the first window to a campus. If your front porch is shattered and beaten up and broken down it’s not a very good first impression of your university,” said Jim Fiore, athletic director of SBU University. “The value of having a strong athletic program is externally important and internally one area where we could build community.”
Last spring, when Stanley was formally announced as President Kenny’s successor, several members of Fiore’s basketball team welcomed President Stanley, an avid basketball fan, with a jersey and basketball during his visit to campus. Kenny was another strong supporter of the athletics program.
Stanley attended SBU’s football match-up against their Long Island rival, Hofstra, and plans to attend many more related events.
Still in its youth, the athletics program is making strides both on and off the field. The program plans to introduce a new state of the art scoreboard, set to debut at LaValle Stadium on October 24. In addition, Minnesota Twins pitcher and SBU alum Joe Nathan has donated $500,000 for a new baseball field. Also in the pipeline is a basketball arena that will begin, pending the unfreezing of state funds, according to Fiore.
To help the athletic program and the campus’ branding, Fiore said he hopes Stanley will engage the marketing of the university and improve the name recognition of the university, both locally and nationally.
“There is a puberty we are going through as a university, we are growing in ways we’ve never dreamed of,” Fiore said. “A lot of people know SBU is a terrific place academically, but not enough people know and I think athletics can help develop that brand and that awareness.” Fiore called for the President’s help in becoming the next large academic institution with a well-supported athletic program such as the University of Michigan or the University of Texas.
Near the end of President Kenny’s reign, a movement was formed in which more than 100 faculty members, ranging from history to computer science signed a petition of no confidence.
The petition was brought about after roughly a quarter of the classes in the College of Arts Sciences were cut and later brought back, in the spring of 2008. Issues brought up in the petition included a growing student-to-faculty ratio, university spending on non-academic projects and the inability of the university to retain top faculty from leaving for other institutions.
Months after the petition was created, Kenny announced she would be retiring in 2009, after 15 years as president.
Aware of the strain put on faculty, Stanley made it clear that investing in faculty was a priority he would address in the weeks to come.
“I would argue that as we improve the quality of scholarship, we are going to improve the quality of education. That’s going to increase the value of your degree from SBU,” Stanley said.
One way to bring in new faculty, Stanley said, would be to target those who can serve in more than one discipline. For example, rather than having a professor who teaches biology, have one who could teach chemistry and physics as well, and benefit more than one department.
These are issues that some professors on this campus are worried about, including History Professor Paul Gootenberg, the tenth signature on the Concerned Faculty of SBU’s petition to President Kenny.
“You can’t double the size of the student body with little or no growth in core College of Arts and Sciences faculty, and little expansion or upgrade of facilities, without it making classes larger and more impersonal,” Gootenberg said. “Larger classes are a poor setting for both students and professors.”
Gootenberg suggested one-way to solve this problem, more democracy and greater input from faculty. “Kenny ignored and even disdained the faculty for 15 years,” Gootenberg said. “She ran the place in an ever-more autocratic centralized fashion, surrounding herself with ‘yes-men’ advisers and administrators who were increasingly out of touch with the real predicaments of SBU.”
President Stanley is planning to do just that with a system used at the University of Washington, a university counsel.
“It brought together the administrators and the deans, so the academic component and the administration component have to sit in a room and then listen to each others’ problems and issues,” said Stanley, who thought he would have to separate two people in one of the earlier meetings this year.
“So it becomes not a question of the deans meeting on one hand with the president or the provost and the administrators meeting on the other hand, everybody is essentially brought in together,” Stanley said.
Gootenberg added that Stanley needs to make some bold moves when it comes to some of President Kenny’s “pet projects”, primarily with regards to their funding.
“A lot of faculty and administrators on campus feel that the huge, flashy and resource-draining projects that Kenny invested millions in–the Southampton campus, SBU-Manhattan, sports facilities and the like–need to be terminated or downsized,” Gootenberg said. “They are draining millions from a real education at SBU,” he added.
Stanley had called the two campuses, SBU Manhattan and SBU Southampton, hubs of tremendous potential.
The challenge, Stanley said, is the monetary commitment required for those satellite campuses, which would allow SBU to host excellent programs out there and complement what is going on at SBU’s main campus.
“Everything has to, for me, fit within those boundaries, trying to be outstanding academically and really improving the academic experience here,” Stanley reassured.
Budget Problems and Why Your Tuition Might Go Up
SBU was cut $25 million during last year’s budget crisis. There is currently a $13 million shortfall the university is faced, which will undoubtedly lead to further cuts within the campus, according to Dan Melucci, associate vice president for Strategy and Analysis. This may stall some of the president’s new initiatives.
Melucci said it would be difficult to spend on long term expenditures such as faculty hiring’s but said one-time investments were more feasible given the budget the situation. “It means it takes longer to get certain things done than it might otherwise,” Melucci said.
To face the budgetary situation, Stanley has held talks with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. These talks have focused on eliminating some restrictions regarding state control of tuition and SBU’s ability to entertain public and private ventures for additional streams of revenue.
“I think she really gets it in terms of what SUNY should be doing to help SBU,” Stanley said about Zimpher. The SUNY Board of Trustees decides whether SBU may control its tuition, however, the state decides how much of the additional money can be kept by the university.
“If the legislature doesn’t give us the spending authority, we can’t spend it,” Melucci said. “And that’s what we worried about last year.”
SBU’s tuition for last spring semester increased $310 for in-state students and $1,130 for out-of-state students. The state used 90 percent of the additional tuition money to pay back state debts and allowed SUNY to use the 10 percent left over.
If the SUNY board of trustees does vote in favor Stanley’s plan, a less regulated control of how SBU operates, tuition for the most part is like to go up, Stanley said.
“I am really proud we can deliver what we deliver on that tuition, but it really, I think, makes it difficult for us to be great,” Stanley said. “Getting this kind of flexibility would really help us leap up into the next level. I sincerely believe that moving into the next level adds value for you [the students].”
A tuition increase would be set by a number determined to provide the most net profit while providing for some of SBU’s economically needy students, Melucci said. Currently, the in-state tuition is $4,970, thirty dollars below the state-funded tuition assistance program, excluding the costs of a meal plan, student fees, and insurance.
“We would make sure that this does not stand in the way of our most disadvantaged economic students,” Stanley ensured.
The Wrap Up
Most students are appreciative of the high value of education offered at SBU given the low cost.
“I know one of the things SBU is well known for is the money you pay for the education,” Wilson said. “I see that side of it. Having a higher tuition also is what makes some schools awesome. It’s a tough call.”
According to Stanley, raising tuition would not only sustain but also improve the condition of the university and provide funds to address some of the bigger and more internal problems.
“I want to make a SBU education even more valuable and I think the ways to do that is just by improving our quality,” Stanley said.
Increasing scholarship and reducing the high student-to-faculty ratio is one priority set high on Stanley’s agenda, which also includes gaining more research grants and raising money from donations. This is something many faculty members felt Stanley’s predecessor failed to achieve.
Gootenberg likened SBU’s past as a struggle between two viewpoints, one being the “Panglossian ‘this is the greatest university in the world’ PR-cheerleader driven ‘up-up-and-away’ vision of Kenny”, the other a majority of unheeded faculty concern.
“I think we need a President who is willing to face the realities at SBU–we are still in deep trouble as an institution, facing ever-more cutbacks (given New York State’s continuing fiscal free-fall)–and gather faculty and students around a real, mature, and workable vision of a university community,” Gootenberg said.
That vision includes a maturing athletic program that is comfortably funded and looking to produce results. “Those who may have had doubt or concerns, I think they’ll be pleasantly pleased—If you will—with what they see in the long term,” Fiore assured. “Our teams are getting real close to being special nationally. I think once that happens, it’ll be a tipping point. You’ll see more people getting involved,” Fiore added.
SBU is praised for it’s academics but overlooked because of its student apathy. The most important concern isn’t how the rest of the world views the students and faculty here, but how they view themselves.
“The idea, as you know, is we need to prime that pump and we need to put resources in her to start that cycle going,” Stanley said. “The beauty is we are starting from a very good position.”