The litigation six students brought against President Samuel Stanley and the State University of New York for moving the Sustainability Program from Southampton to Stony Brook’s main campus came to a close in August when a settlement was finalized. But the settlement did not come without controversy or discontent.
In August 2010, the courts ruled that the way Stanley closed the program was illegal, and after the university appealed, they began settlement negotiations.
“It could have been litigated forever,” Assemblyman Fred Thiele said. “That costs a lot of money.” Money that the six students, Katherine Osiecki, Nicole Altimari, Tara Linton, Dean Tarulli, Kathleen Furey and Martha Weller, along with the not for profit organization Save the College at Southampton Inc., don’t have.
The settlement stipulates that the university pay for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees–which total $30,000 even after fundraisers, donations and financial support from alumni–that it hold a sustainability conference before 2013 and that the program be guaranteed until 2014, though there is no indication that the program will be shut down after that.
Thiele said the closure reflects the way Stony Brook views its mission, though the university said it would be financially irresponsible to keep the program open.
“I never quite bought that,” he said. “I don’t think that Stony Brook has generated anywhere near the savings they thought they were going to generate. If money were the issue, when Stony Brook got its state funding and its tuition increase this year, why didn’t they move the program back? … To me the numbers never added up”
Also under the settlement, President Stanley must hold a meeting—scheduled for Monday September 12—to apologize for the disruption of the lives of the student- petitioners. Only after a week of “public pressure,” phone calls and e-mails did Stanley extend the invitation to all students currently in the Sustainability Program– rather than just the six petitioners, Senator Kenneth LaValle and Thiele, according to Julie Semente, the mother of plaintiff Tara Linton.
“There was no happiness with this settlement,” Semente said. “They proved that what Stanley did was illegal. They won their lawsuit, and all they get is an apology?”
In an email sent to Stanley August 31, Semente told the president that he owes her an apology, as well, for disrupting her daughter’s education. Executive Assistant Carol Londoiro replied back that it is a “closed, by-invitation-only meeting, and individuals not directly invited by President Stanley will not be able to attend.”
Semente said Stanley is trying to circumvent the apology by refusing to allow all the students that were affected—not just those in the Sustainability Program—to attend, Semente said. “He’s choking on it now,” she added. “The public and the press should be there, too.”
Tara Linton, Semente’s daughter, followed the Sustainability Program to the main campus, though Semente said a lot was lost.
“Since she was nine she wanted sustainability,” Semente said. “We just didn’t know what to call it back then. She was not going to give up just because [Stanley] took the campus out from under her feet.”
Martin Schoonen, director of the sustainability program, said there is a rebuilding process underway to recoup some of the sustainable practices that existed at Southampton, such as growing produce on campus for the dining halls. The main campus has a lot of opportunities that didn’t exist at Southampton, such as high efficiency buildings, which keep faculty and students optimistic, and there are a lot of opportunities for collaboration, he said. “For everything you lose, you gain something new.”
Though the program here has around 100 majors and 50-60 minors, only about a dozen faculty members made the leap. Many were teaching courses at Southampton that already exist at the main campus, like physics, biology and writing,
Schoonen said. He acknowledged the fact that the tightknit community that existed on the southern shore is now fractured. There was more space there, they had their own campus, they shared meals in the same cafeteria, and he knew most students on first name basis, he said.
“At Southampton, it was a green campus,” Semente said, “They lived what they were learning.” Much of the studying was outside, everything in the food courts was biodegradable and they grew their own food, she explained. “Now they are in a classroom…they feel like second class citizens here.”
Thiele and LaValle have plans underway to build a sustainability institute on the Southampton campus, though finding the initial start-up money will be a challenge. They said they will schedule an organizational meeting for October to discuss how the institute should be funded and what its mission will be.
“Sustainability and trying to create sustainable development is a global issue,” Thiele said. “All of Long Island is essentially built out. We just can’t keep developing. Our future lies in sustainability; resources are finite and in no place is that more obvious than Long Island.”