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Story - Education

Apr 16, 2010 3:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Stony Brook Southampton students protest cuts to Shinnecock Hills campus

Apr 16, 2010 3:58 PM

About 100 students attending Stony Brook Southampton gathered in the parking lot of the Kohl’s in Rocky Point early Monday morning and, at 7:15 a.m., set off marching, two-by-two, down Route 25A.

Their destination: Stony Brook University’s main campus, 12 miles to the west.

Their mission: to keep their fledgling satellite campus in Shinnecock Hills from closing.

“I’m pretty confident we’re going to make a statement,” said Allison Bauser, 19, a marine science and coastal environmental studies major from Peconic, as she stood in line waiting for the march to begin on April 12.

Less than one week earlier, the students learned from media reports that their South Fork campus, a hub for promoting sustainability and studying the environment, would be effectively shuttered on August 31, after just three years of operation. Stony Brook University confirmed the reports the next morning, April 7, citing mounting state budget cuts as the reason for the sudden announcement.

University officials stated that the dorms would be closed, along with most of the buildings across the 81-acre Shinnecock Hills campus, and that most of the academic programs there would be curtailed and moved to the main campus, leaving only the marine sciences research center and the graduate writing program operating at the site.

The 500 students currently attending the satellite campus were offered a choice: continue their studies at the much larger main campus, or transfer elsewhere.

But many of them opted to mobilize against the cuts over the last week, rather than cut their losses. When Stony Brook President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. arrived at Stony Brook Southampton last Wednesday, April 7, to announce the cuts and field questions, students greeted him with solemn demonstrations and emotional appeals.

They spent the days since then gathering testimonials from each other and their parents, amassing signatures on petitions, and appealing to legislators like New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., both of whom have said that they will make legal and political maneuvers to block Stony Brook’s cuts.

After marching for about five hours Monday morning, and meeting up with more demonstrators at a second pick-up point in East Setauket, the students crossed the main campus and congregated outside Stony Brook University’s Administration Building at around noon, chanting “S.O.S. SBS!”

After a few minutes, Dr. Stanley stepped outside with other administrators and addressed the students. Then, five student leaders went into Dr. Stanley’s office to deliver the letters and petitions, and pitch alternatives to closing the undergraduate program at Stony Brook Southampton.

“I don’t feel that Dr. Stanley told us anything that we hadn’t already heard,” said Caroline Dwyer, 30, of Quogue, one of the student leaders who met with Dr. Stanley on Monday. “We did present him with a lot of options and alternatives—things that we were willing to do to keep our campus viable—that he pretty much dismissed, so I guess we’re back where we are.”

But after the march and sit-in on Monday, some students said they had renewed hope.

“I think our chances have improved since the news was first let go,” said Steven Carolan, a 22-year-old senior. “They could be just rumors, but the word is that we’re making an impact, and people are starting to change, and there’s a chance at this point.”

After the meeting, the Stony Brook Southampton students, joined by students from the main campus, staged a sit-in outside the Administration Building until about 6 p.m.

Dr. Stanley and other university officials have said over the past week that they are cutting most of the programs now offered at Stony Brook Southampton in an effort to make up a nearly $55 million drop in state funding over the last two years. Stony Brook had stated that it expects to save $6 million per year by making Stony Brook Southampton a non-residential campus and curtailing most programs there.

Stony Brook Southampton drains about $10 million per year from the Stony Brook University budget, according to Dr. Stanley. Administrators have also said that it costs about 2.5 times more to teach a student at Stony Brook Southampton than it does at the main campus.

“This has obviously been a very difficult decision for us,” Dr. Stanley said on Monday. “We had thought very carefully and long about what we could do in response to what’s been the worst budget cuts that Stony Brook and SUNY have ever faced.”

Stony Brook also plans to save about $1 million per year by making drastic cuts to its Manhattan campus, and the main campus will absorb another $27 million in cuts, according to the university.

The resistance against the cuts started from the very beginning. On the night of Tuesday, April 6, rumors began to fly through the academic buildings and dorms in Shinnecock Hills that the campus was in danger. Students gathered in the quad after dark to mull over the news and mount a response, according to accounts.

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