Michael Ruhnau, senior environmental studies major at Stony Brook, remembers exactly where he was when he found out his campus would be closing: in the Southampton library finishing homework the night before his twenty first birthday.
Ruhnau transferred to Stony Brook Southampton after spending a year at Stony Brook’s main campus, when Southampton was only in its second year as a residential college. After two years there, Ruhnau finally felt like it was growing into a real, bustling college campus—just in time for President Stanley to announce that it would be closing and that there was nothing the students could do about it.
Now, almost a year after the university closed all residences and cut programs from Southampton, it has announced plans to expand programs that will bring students to the campus as early as this summer—and Ruhnau may be one of them.
The university plans to expand the MFA in Writing and Literature Program into a larger graduate creative arts program to be called, “Southampton Arts,” which will include theater, film, and visual arts.
Next fall, the university plans to open dormitories to students as part of the “Semester by the Sea: Marine Sciences” program, that will give students from SUNY and outside colleges the ability to study at the eastern Long Island campus for a semester, much like a study abroad program. After that program is underway, the university plans to open a similar “Semester by the Sea: Creative Arts” program in the fall semester of 2012.
These programs will differ from the sustainability major that was moved to the main campus last year in that they will be funded entirely by tuition and fees.
“We want to be sure to have programs that would be financially sustainable, and that have good intellectual content,” Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Eric W. Kaler said. “The sustainable programs were extremely expensive—they were full degree programs with a wide range of courses.”
Kaler declined to comment on the possibility of the university reopening the four-year undergraduate residency programs. “That is the essence of a lawsuit,” he said.
Several Southampton students brought the university to court on claims that the university cut programs and residencies at Southampton illegally by not first seeking approval from the Stony Brook University Council. On August 30, 2010, the State Supreme Court annulled the university’s decision to close Southampton, according to a memo for a later NYS Assembly bill regarding Southampton. The SUNY Board of Trustees ratified the motion to close the campus on November 17, 2010. In February,
2011, the students put a hold on all litigations while talks about the future of the campus move forward. Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Kenneth LaValle have sponsored legislation that would create a committee of 13 people to study the possibility of establishing Southampton as an independent SUNY campus.
While there have been no talks of reopening the four-year residencies or of moving the sustainability program back to Southampton, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMas) professor Kurt Bretsch, Ph.D., said it is a step forward.
“I don’t think this is intended by anybody, SoMas or Stony Brook, as being the only thing offered down there,” he said. “This certainly will not fill that beautiful campus—that wonderful asset that we have as Stony Brook and as taxpayers in New York that needs to be utilized, but it’s a great start.”
Undergraduate Programs Director Dr. Mary Scranton and Professor Chris Goble, Ph.D. are currently working on advertisements for the Semester by the Sea: Marine Sciences program that are to be released in the next couple of weeks, Bretsch said. The idea for the program originated a few years ago, but was set aside because Southampton was growing, and there was no opportunity for it to be established. They expect to have about 20 students participate in the program next fall, but they hope that number will be increased to about 50 in the future. Due to time constraints, the first semester will consist of Stony Brook students, though they hope to attract students from across the country in future semesters, Bretsch said. The program will be open to juniors and seniors, as students will take upper division courses, and the campus will not have food or support services that were previously available.
Students will take three core courses: Coastal Culture Experience, Long Island Marine Habitats, and Maritime Traditions. Aside from those, students will have the opportunity to choose from a variety of electives.
Dean of SoMAS Minghua Zhang, Ph.D. said the idea was proposed to university administrators who received it very enthusiastically. When asked if there was hope for the reestablishment of the four-year undergraduate residencies, he responded with a curt “yes.”
Both Zhang and Bretsch said they think the expansion of the arts programs at Southampton would bring positive attributes to the Southampton campus, where the MFA in writing and literature already thrives.
“It makes sense,” Bretsch said. “The campus is gorgeous. It’s conducive to the arts.”
Here at Stony Brook, students, including Ruhnau, are excited about the possibility of returning to Southampton, even if only for a semester. But Ruhnau said he’s not sure the program will offer the courses he needs to finish his minor in Marine Sciences, and he still wishes the university would bring back the four-year residences that allowed students to use Southampton’s resources to their full potential.
“I would hate to see the only residential part of that campus be for the Semester by the Sea program,” Ruhnau said. “I still firmly believe that it should be a four-year campus where students can live.”