Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley spoke about consolidating academic departments and reopening the Southampton campus in an exclusive interview with Think Magazine.

Rumors of departmental closures have been circulating around campus for months, and the art department is considered target number one. And while President Stanley said that no such plans currently exist, he stopped short of denying that there would be some significant changes in the future.

“We have no plans right now to abolish departments per se,” he said. “But we’re very interested in finding ways to streamline administrative costs.”

Currently, smaller departments within the fine arts each have their own administrative infrastructure. It’s those costs that President Stanley is looking to reduce or even eliminate.

“I don’t think a final plan is done yet, but I know we’re talking about the idea of bringing some of the departments together within fine arts to create maybe a larger department of fine arts,” said Stanley. “That’s something we’re certainly looking at.”

Those plans are necessitated by prolonged budget cuts from the state, argued Stanley. Stony Brook’s budget has been slashed by over $60 million over the last few years, and President Stanley is not counting on a restoration of that money any time soon.

“I don’t know what the next budget is going to bring for Stony Brook, but I’m not optimistic about it. I think there are going to be more cuts,” he said.

That didn’t stop Stanley from taking a surprisingly upbeat tone towards Stony Brook Southampton, the small campus on the south shore of Long Island that was all but shuttered last year due to budgetary constraints. Read more about Stony Brook’s plan to reopen Southampton here.

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher addressed the statewide budget concerns in her State of the University address in early January, and proposed a plan that would call for each of the 64 campuses that comprise SUNY to compete for some state funding. Money would be allocated based on a series of benchmarks, like diversity and research productivity.

President Stanley supports the plan, but aired a few reservations that are keeping him from offering a full endorsement of Zimpher’s plan.

“Stony Brook is never opposed to a meritocracy,” he told Think. “I’m not opposed to the concept in general, but the devil is in the details. Understanding what the benchmarks will be is important.”

The United University Professions, SUNY’s union of professors and staff, expressed similar concerns after Zimpher’s speech.

“Competition may lead campuses to select only those students who’ve already demonstrated academic success. That could compromise access,” warned UUP spokeswoman Denyce Duncan Lacy through a statement issued after Zimpher’s address.

Alumni also factor in to Zimpher’s plan to weather the current budgetary storm. SUNY has a network of well over 2 million alumni, and campuses are about to begin a heavy courtship of their graduates to make up lost revenue. Under Zimpher’s plan, the largest SUNY campuses—Stony Brook included—may roll out capital campaigns upwards of $1 billion this year.

That would be the largest capital campaign in Stony Brook’s history, far outpacing the $360 million campaign from last year.

Stanley is so far noncommittal on the $1 billion figure. “I think before I would make any type of numbers like that, I would really need to do a careful analysis,” he said.

A significant chunk of any capital campaign could come from James Simons, the former chair of the math department and a President Emeritus of the Stony Brook Foundation who has already donated over $60 million to the university. Last year, he made a public offer of $150 million to Stony Brook so long as the state passed the controversial Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, or PHEEIA.

Legislation has stalled in Albany, however. And with the new political makeup of the state senate, it’s unlikely that PHEEIA will even come to a vote this year.

Still, President Stanley believes that many of the provisions included in PHEEIA are essential to the university, including tuition increases to offset the loss of state funding.

“I think that it’s absolutely vital for our future. I think if you asked me what the things are we need to move forward, that increased flexibility is important.”

He also made a point to address the biggest concern that people have about PHEEIA; the issue over access to education.

“Tied into [tuition increases] was always making sure we had significant revenue and financial aide to hold our economically disadvantaged students harmless,” he said.

Even without PHEEIA though, programs like the Educational Opportunity Program are facing state mandated budget cuts. EOP is a statewide program that operates on every SUNY campus, and gets a portion of their funding directly from the state.

“I added some additional money in EOP’s budget again to make up for some cuts they had because I think it’s so important to what we do at Stony Brook,” said Stanley. “I think the governor and the legislature need to do the same, they need to invest in those areas. They’re going to help us recover economically and will help to maintain access.”

Even as President Stanley and Chancellor Zimpher try to gather support for PHEEIA, opponents are criticizing university administrators for giving up too easily on the fight to restore state funding.

“There’s always been an inherent risk that if you get tuition increases…the state now feels they’re off the hook in terms of providing their support,” admitted Stanley. “The problem is that the reality is we’ve been cut no matter what. When people were advocating for restorations, that really fell on deaf ears.”

“We’re not trying to let anybody off the hook,” he assured his critics. “And I would fight as hard as anybody for a restoration of our funds.”

Stanley also discussed the process of bringing a privately run hotel to campus. An ongoing lawsuit kept him short on details, but he sounded confident the university would be moving forward with construction.

“Obviously I can’t comment on pending litigation, but I think we’re really anticipating that we’re going to move this project forward,” he said.

To listen to the full interview with University President Samuel Stanley, tune in on Monday morning to Think Out Loud, our radio program broadcast all across Long Island on WUSB 90.1fm.

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