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Story - Education

May 26, 2010 12:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Stony Brook Southampton students file lawsuit to stop closure of campus

May 26, 2010 12:09 PM

A group of Stony Brook Southampton students and a nonprofit filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that pending cuts to the campus are illegal, and seeks an injunction to keep the school running in its current form for the time being.

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, is in response to an announcement last month that Stony Brook University would be closing the dorms at the satellite campus in Shinnecock Hills and relocating most of the academic programs to the main campus at the end of the summer session. University officials have stated that they will save $6.7 million per year by relocating programs and shuttering facilities at Southampton, which they said is necessary in the face of deep state funding cuts.

The document names Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the president of Stony Brook University, as a defendant, along with Stony Brook University itself, the State University of New York Board of Trustees and the Stony Brook University Council.

Students Katherine Osiecki, Nicole Altimari, Tara Linton, Dean Tarulli, Kathleen Furey and Martha Weller are named as plaintiffs, along with Save the College at Southampton, Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for the school.

Stony Brook University representatives did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment this week. A SUNY representative referred all questions to Stony Brook University.

The lawsuit alleges that the decision to close programs at the satellite campus should have been approved by the Stony Brook University Council, under state education law. The Stony Brook University Council is a 10-member board that advises and oversees university administration, according to the university’s website. The plaintiffs claim there is no indication the council ruled on the decision to make the cuts to Stony Brook Southampton.

The plaintiffs allege Dr. Stanley “made the decision behind closed doors in order to bypass the students, public and the press and to shield an improper process from public scrutiny.”

The lawsuit also contends that students will be irreparably harmed if the cuts to the campus go forward, and echoes cries that students have made since the cuts were suddenly announced.

“First, petitioners will be ejected from the college of their choice, a college they picked over other institutions that also accepted them as students,” the lawsuit reads.

In recent weeks, Stony Brook University has stated that more than half of Stony Brook Southampton’s approximately 500 students have signed up for fall classes at the much-larger main campus in Stony Brook. The plaintiffs contend that the main campus is not a suitable replacement.

“It is as if respondents are sending a person from a small hamlet in upstate New York to midtown Manhattan and asking ‘What’s the problem? What’s the difference?’ when that persons objects,” the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs are seeking a court decision that would stay Stony Brook University’s hand until a judge rules on the legality of the cuts. The document does not state that the plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who has been speaking out against the cuts to Stony Brook Southampton, said he supported the legal action. He said that the court may hold a hearing on the claim in mid-June.

Originally, Mr. Thiele and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle were going to mount their own legal battle against Stony Brook University. But the two men decided to back the students’ lawsuit instead, Mr. Thiele said in recent weeks. Since then, he said he as taken an advisory role, helping organize the students and aiding them in finding an attorney. The Melville firm Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella & Yedid, P.C., is representing the students and the nonprofit.

Since the cuts were announced on April 7, students have raised more than $25,000 toward legal fees, including an unknown amount at a fund-raiser at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead last Thursday, May 20.

That morning, Stony Brook Southampton held its first and, by all appearances, last graduation ceremony, during which 21 undergraduates and four Master of Fine Arts graduate students were honored at Duke Lecture Hall, according to Darren Johnson, a Stony Brook Southampton spokesman. The small ceremony, which officials dubbed “Class Day,” preceded the official commencement at Stony Brook University’s main campus on Friday, May 21.

“You are now among the very few people in the world trained to confront new ideas without prejudice, yet with a moral compass and the intellectual tools to analyze their worth,” Dr. Mary Pearl, the dean of Stony Brook Southampton, told students, according to a transcript of her commencement address. “This is the beginning of wisdom.”

The graduates were among the first to leave the fledgling environmental school. Stony Brook University purchased the campus from Long Island University in 2006, and it welcomed its first students in 2007.

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