One day after the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced that it had granted final approval for Stony Brook University to proceed with an international campus in Songdo, university officials still seemed unsure about how to respond to the leaked information.
University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow did not deny the claims put forth by the Ministry in a press release, but suggested that any public announcement may have been premature.
“We have heard nothing official from the Ministry of Education,” she said Friday afternoon.
News of the agreement announced by the South Korean government seemed to catch everyone by surprise. University Senate President Fred Walter had no idea that any formal proposal was even being discussed, let alone sent to the Ministry for approval.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Walter when contacted by Think Magazine.
Sources from both the University Senate and Stony Brook Council have said that discussions of the Songdo campus have been minimal at best, and non-existent for months. Records kept by the University Senate show that the last time Songdo was even mentioned in a full body meeting was seven months ago, in December 2010. Even then, Songdo was only mentioned in passing by then-Provost Eric Kaler, who did not indicate that the university was preparing to make a formal proposal to the Ministry of Education.
The sudden reemergence of the South Korea campus and the apparent lack of communication between the administration and the deliberative bodies have irked some professors, who privately wish President Stanley would be more upfront when it comes to major issues that affect the entire university. Similar complaints arose when Stanley announced the sudden closure of the Southampton campus in the spring of 2010 without informing the Stony Brook Council of the decision until after the news went public.
In 2009, Stony Brook University began to aggressively explore the possibility of signing on as a partner university for a global campus initiative in Songdo, a new, international, multi-billion dollar business district outside of Seoul. The initial plan called for an undergraduate program in four disciplines that would educate as many as 1,500 students at its peak operation.
But those ambitious plans began to slowly collapse, and several of the dozen or so partner universities pulled out of the plan. By late 2010, any discussions of Songdo that were taking place in offices around campus centered around a scaled back graduate program, offering master’s degree and doctoral programs in computer science and technology and society.
College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Yakov Shamash said that discussions about the graduate program continued in earnest through the Provost’s office throughout much of the last year.
“There are faculty who are prepared to participate,” said Shamash. Finding faculty willing to relocate to Korea was an issue when Songdo was first proposed in 2009, according to Walter.
News that the Ministry of Education had approved Stony Brook’s proposal surprised even Shamash, who is heading to Korea this week to meet with officials and tour the campus.