The Stony Brook University Council’s decision to back President Stanley in the closure of Southampton has proven to be very disheartening to Southampton students, but beyond that is an even more disappointing picture for all SUNY students. From Chancellor Nancy Zimpher down to President Stanley and his crew, SUNY administrators at all levels have painted a gloomy outlook for the students.
In a nutshell, President Stanley’s decision to shut down residency and undergraduate programs at Southampton has been cast as a move to deal with a worsening budget crisis that’s plaguing SUNY on every front. Facing a $30 million cut alone this year, it can appear that backing Stanley is like backing the numbers and facts—that closing Southampton was the appropriate thing to do. Overall, the University plans on saving roughly $6 million on the closure over two to three years, a number that has been tweaked several times since the announcement was made last spring.
What is $6 million in the larger University operating budget of roughly $1.9 billion? And of that larger operating budget, the $6 million figure that has been thrown out as the projected savings is just a mere 1.95 percent of the the $332 million Stony Brook receives in state-aid. What about the millions of dollars in the accounts of the Stony Brook Foundation? Out of all the revenue the University pulls in, it chose to make a drastic and highly visible move in a hasty and deceptive fashion.
It is very difficult to watch the Southampton debacle unfold and not link it to the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, a bill that would allow SUNY schools to individually raise their own tuition and ease the bureaucratic procedure of public-private ventures for state schools. It just so happens that Southampton students have called their former, a now boarded up, university that housed a few of New York’s dissenting voices against SUNY’s steroid-injection of power. From State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and now Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), these East End do-gooders felt it was not in the best interest of their constituents to see tuition hikes at the expense of the middle class. Nor did they think it was in their best interest to see the increased revenue stay at SUNY schools; rather have it sit in Albany for pet-project allocations and vague usage. Why should the legislature want to relinquish control of all the money that higher education pulls in?
In a recent interview, Thiele said the Southampton cuts and PHEEIA are directly linked, and he called the cuts a “failed lobbying effort.” But who’s to say that the legislator’s support for this issue isn’t just a way to clinch some votes? Where have our local legislators been in fighting for the simple request to fund public higher-education? Rather than fight for the power of who gets to control the money, both SUNY and local legislators should do what seems to be the unthinkable: fight for us, the students. They must stop making moves to intimidate each other, cease the power struggle over our tuition and tax dollars, and do what’s right for all of us so we can graduate on time and go on to better things.
In this futile battle of greed, sides are now taking prisoners. Consider Matt Graham, the Undergraduate Student Government President who came out perfecting the little dance-routine of support for Stanley and the so-called student representation. Graham went against a USG resolution that condemned Stanley’s hasty and callous move to shut down Stony Brook’s growing sister campus. It’s puzzling how Graham has come up with this decision until you speak with him about it. He says he met privately with Stanley to discuss the issue before the council meeting, where he saw “the facts and numbers.” But what about the other 20,000-plus students who don’t hold office in the student government and are not jockeying for recommendation letters from President Stanley? Every other week there is some sort of protest taking place either in favor of supporting Southampton or heavily against PHEEIA—mind you this is happening frequently on a campus with a high level of student apathy. Graham said he had friends at Southampton and that “this is the kind of job you lose friends over.” At least he has a new best friend now—President Stanley.
It could very well be that Southampton was indeed just a matter of tightening Stony Brook’s budget during a difficult economic time, but the hastiness with which the campus was closed, the lack of transparency in the procedure, and just how this university has handled the situation has left a visible black eye, even in the wake of what administrators would call a victory. They have alienated legislators who could have been champions of support in this screwed up system New York operates in. At the end of the day, the students, whether it’s the 400 or so former Southampton students who are contemplating their future on Main Campus, or the larger body of Stony Brook students, are getting shafted on their best interest—an affordable and promising education.