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May 24, 2011 4:34 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sides In Stony Brook Southampton Lawsuit Consider Settlement

Jun 3, 2011 7:27 PM

The two sides embroiled in litigation over deep cuts to Stony Brook Southampton are weighing a settlement agreement that would put to rest a legal battle that has simmered for the last year, according to the plaintiffs in the case.

The terms of the agreement could include an apology by Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., to the six students who sued the university last May after it slashed spending on the Shinnecock Hills satellite campus, shuttered its dormitories, and relocated most of its student body to the main campus in Stony Brook, according to some of the plaintiffs and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. The assemblyman has been a vocal advocate of the students.

The settlement, if agreed to by both sides, would include a commitment by Stony Brook University not to level further cuts to its environmental sustainability programs, which were relocated from Shinnecock Hills to Stony Brook, until the last of the plaintiffs graduate in three years, the plaintiffs said. The proposed terms also include the creation of an annual sustainability conference at the satellite campus, and the university’s payment of the plaintiffs’ approximately $30,000 in legal fees.

The settlement will not restore the campus to what it was prior to the massive cuts, meaning that the East End will still be without a four-year residential college.

“I think the feeling is that it isn’t perfect,” Mr. Thiele said of the proposed agreement. “But if the litigation were to continue, it would be more money spent and there would be no guarantee that we would do better than this even if we won all aspects of the litigation.”

Stony Brook University representatives did not return requests for comment.

The university lost the case last August, when a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the university did not follow proper legal procedure when it made the cuts. The university then requested and received an after-the-fact approval from its state-appointed advisory council, an attempt to put itself in the right.

Since then, the students’ attorneys have filed a motion contending that the council’s approval does not fulfill the university’s legal requirements under state law. Stony Brook University, meanwhile, has appealed the judge’s initial ruling.

Mr. Thiele said he is also trying to establish a sustainability research institute at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, to ensure an aspect of the campus’ previous incarnation lives on. The university is planning to turn the site into a home for graduate arts programs and semester-long residencies for visiting students in arts and marine sciences. It will also keep the campus’ marine sciences research center open.

The university has maintained that repurposing Stony Brook Southampton was necessary amid multimillion-dollar budget deficits brought on by a severe drop in state funding.

One of the plaintiffs, Tara Linton of Staten Island, said she was disappointed but also “okay” with the proposed settlement. She said Mr. Thiele’s idea for the sustainability institute was an exciting prospect that made the terms easier to swallow.

“There are mixed feelings about it,” said Ms. Linton, who was forced to take her study of ecosystems from Stony Brook Southampton to the main campus in Stony Brook last year. “Some of us are excited to be part of that. Some of us aren’t. It’s mixed feelings just because we want what we wanted, and some of us can’t have it, I guess. But, overall, this is a good thing.”

At the same time, Ms. Linton said she was worried that Stony Brook University would discontinue the sustainability majors, which once formed the academic core of Stony Brook Southampton, after the plaintiffs graduate.

Kathleen Furey, another plaintiff who lives in Hampton Bays, said she is opposed to the terms of the settlement because it does not realize the plaintiffs’ goal of returning a four-year residential college to the East End. “The reason we really stuck this out was because a four-year degree-granting public education institution is so desperately needed on the East End, and that’s not what this is going to be.”

Ms. Furey also said she felt that the East End community, including local government officials, did not coalesce behind the students.

“The community just never seemed to find the urgency on this. But we the students were doing everything we could to draw attention to this story, and we haven’t heard anything about this” except from Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, she said.

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The students did all they could to try & get back a real 4-yr college for the East End community. The rest is up to the community if it wants a real college instead of just a campus with a revolving door for a few short-term out-of-town visiting students
By ts (71), southampton on May 26, 11 10:36 PM