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Story - Education

Sep 1, 2010 11:08 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Judge rules that cuts to Stony Brook Southampton violate state law; Stony Brook says it's in compliance

Sep 1, 2010 11:08 AM

A State Supreme Court judge ruled Monday that Stony Brook University’s decision to close the dorms and slash academic programs at Stony Brook Southampton was illegal—a zero-hour development in a months-long fight to preserve the satellite campus.

But as the dust began to settle after the ruling, state officials who have been fighting the draconian cuts for months remain hazy on what the court decision actually will mean—namely, whether or not it will be enough to preserve the Shinnecock Hills campus as a four-year college focusing on a environmental sustainability curriculum.

The decision by Judge Paul J. Baisley Jr. came on the first day of fall semester classes at Stony Brook University, and one day before the cuts to Stony Brook Southampton were scheduled to take effect. As of late July, 305 of the 373 students enrolled at Stony Brook Southampton have registered instead for classes at the main campus in Stony Brook, according to university officials.

Monday’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of Stony Brook Southampton students in May, about a month after Stony Brook University, under duress from multimillion-dollar state funding cuts, announced that it would slash spending at the satellite campus.

Katherine Osiecki, 18, of Sag Harbor, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she was sitting in a class with other displaced Stony Brook Southampton students on the main campus on Monday when she got a voice mail from State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. informing her about the ruling.

“You know when you get so happy your eyes water like you’re crying? That was the feeling,” Ms. Osiecki said. She added that she did not know what the ruling would mean for the displaced students, but she is satisfied nonetheless. “I think that all the hard work we put into it paid off,” she said.

A copy of the decision indicates that Judge Baisley took issue with the fact that Stony Brook University bypassed its own university council when it decided to slash spending at Stony Brook Southampton. State education law mandates that the 10-member Stony Brook University Council must “review all major plans” of the university administration.

The ruling concludes that Stony Brook University’s decision to “close” Stony Brook Southampton is “annulled” and that the university can take no further action on that front until it allows the council to review the plans, and puts itself in compliance with state education law.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, though, a Stony Brook University spokeswoman wrote that Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., Ph.D., already fulfilled that obligation in May, when he discussed the cuts made the month before with members of the University Council.

“Although not yet part the legal record, in fact Stony Brook University has already complied with the Court’s directive,” Lauren Sheprow wrote in an e-mail. “On May 11, 2010, at a regularly convened meeting of the Stony Brook Council, President Stanley apprised the Council and members of the public then in attendance, about both the budgetary impact of residential operations at Southampton, and his intention to relocate a number of academic programs from Southampton to the Stony Brook campus.”

If accurate, that would mean that Stony Brook University was out of compliance with state law for about a month this spring. It is unclear at this point how that claim will play into the next phases of the legal dispute.

Mr. Thiele, who has helped guide the students in their legal challenge, said on Tuesday that the next step is for the judge to issue an order to Stony Brook University. Within the next couple of weeks, the students will propose that the court order the university to restore the campus as soon as possible, said Mr. Thiele, who, along with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, has mounted a multifaceted campaign to reverse the cuts.

Stony Brook University officials have estimated that they can save $6.7 million a year by cutting programs at the Shinnecock Hills campus. Prior to making the cuts, Stony Brook was spending about $10 million annually to keep Stony Brook Southampton open, they said.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Mr. Thiele congratulated the students, and had harsh words for Stony Brook University and Dr. Stanley. In his press release, Mr. Thiele called Dr. Stanley a “new Stony Brook president with a hidden agenda” who “had to lie to the public to justify his decision.” As he has done in the past, Mr. Thiele again alleged that Dr. Stanley lied about almost every facet of the decision to cut spending on Stony Brook Southampton, including his financial justifications for making the cuts.

“Stony Brook University made the decision behind closed doors to shut down the Southampton campus,” he wrote. “Not only did they fail to consult with its University Council as required by law, they failed to consult with elected officials, community leaders, students and even administrators at the Southampton campus.

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The students' lawsuit wasnt even finished being filed with the court until mid-June. If SBU had been in compliance since May, the court would have said there was no case - and there would not have been a decision in the students favor in late August. SBU tried a similar argument in court claiming they already met compliance but the judge rejected it. Just notifying the council of the president's already-done-deal does not meet the requirement of the law.
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 1, 10 6:24 PM
2 members liked this comment
In yesterdays Newsday editorial, the paper announces that no court will change the almighty president's decisions, but he should make nice & have an open meeting to soothe "hurt feelings" & explain his rationale again. Pese spare us. We've been hearing & reading those explanations for 5 months & they still dont wash. Another meeting to hear more of the same is not needed. How about opening the books to indpendent auditors istead and proving that the college had to be killed?

But Newsday ...more
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 2, 10 3:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
Just follow the ad dollars. Newsday's editorial section is a stooge for Up-Island money interests. They've never cared about the Twin Forks. That said, a lot of the reporters there do have high integrity.

It's good to see that Southampton College is close to being back in business. I refuse to call it Stony Brook Southampton anymore.

So what next? Southampton businesses need to pony up in this PR effort to, once again, save the College.

The Publick House, for example, ...more
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Sep 5, 10 9:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
The Publick House, for example, ... more lost $90,000 a year once the original Southampton College closed? Thats very interesting. If data like that could be tracked from now until the end of this semester in December, showing just how much the community has been affected, it might have an impact.
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 5, 10 9:48 PM
For that matter, what about LaPizzaiola, The Tidewater, Fisherman's Quarters, Murf's, Doran's, and the Blue Collar?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 7, 10 6:20 PM
maybe they should all put together a petition to the university council, pressing for the re-opening & restoration of full operations for the next semester which starts in January.
By ts (71), southampton on Sep 8, 10 12:11 AM