The presidents of Long Island's five public colleges met Friday with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher for an upbeat discussion of the future of higher education amid reminders they will likely have to make millions of dollars in budget cuts in the next few months.
As the two-hour presentation ended, 10 students from Stony Brook University's Southampton branch walked onto a stage at SUNY Old Westbury and confronted Zimpher about plans to close most of their campus.
Citing a proposal by a group of East End politicians to use millions of dollars in Southampton Town community preservation funds to buy development rights for the campus and eventually make it a separate SUNY college, the students asked Zimpher to keep the campus open as is for two more years.
"You talk about the importance of sustainability and 'green' jobs, and that's the focus of our campus," said John Botos, a senior from Oceanside, as he pointed a finger at Zimpher. "It seems ironic you're shutting it down."
Looking surprised by the direct criticism, Zimpher said SUNY campuses expect to trim $120 million this year because of reduced funding from Albany. "We do have many financial challenges . . . but we're not closing the school."
Botos demanded a meeting, saying: "You haven't visited our campus."
Friday's presentation was meant to celebrate the five-year plan crafted during 10 months of Zimpher crisscrossing New York and visiting the system's 64 campuses. "The Power of SUNY" plan calls on administrators to incubate small businesses, improve training for teachers and health care workers, embrace global education and expand online offerings.
Old Westbury's president, Calvin O. Butts III, applauded the plan, but in an interview he said he has made nearly $2 million in cuts in the past 18 months and expects to cut another $2 million. "We're talking about losing faculty, getting rid of lab sections and courses," he said.
Butts said the Southampton cutbacks are "emblematic" for SUNY. He praised Southampton's environmental programs but added, "When Stony Brook's got a crisis, and they have got to pay for a hospital and graduate programs, they might have to let something go, like an extra campus on the East End."
In an interview, Zimpher said she refuses to "micromanage" Stony Brook president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, as he prepares to cut up to $45 million. "If the students or other parties have ideas they want to throw at this problem, let them," she said. "But nothing has reached my desk that looks like a plan anyone can react to."
Zimpher and Stanley blamed the State Legislature for reducing spending on higher education. Eliminating residential programs at Southampton "is not the only action Stony Brook is going to be taking" to balance the budget, Stanley warned.