A chat as Stony Brook's new president takes the helm

Dr. Samuel Stanley listens as he's introduced as Dr. Samuel Stanley listens as he's introduced as the next president of Stony Brook University on May 5, 2009. Photo Credit: John Paraskevas/ File

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Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. is to be inaugurated Friday as Stony Brook University's fifth president. On July 1, Dr. Stanley, a medical doctor and researcher who was vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis, succeeded Shirley Strum Kenny, who retired after 15 years as president. In a wide-ranging interview with Newsday this week, Dr. Stanley talked about his vision for the university and the challenges posed by state budget cuts. Below are excerpts.

 

When you took over as Stony Brook president July 1, you identified three key issues to examine early in your tenure: differential tuition [where university research centers like Stony Brook could charge higher tuition than other four-year SUNY colleges], graduate stipend rates, and strengthening the university's ties with Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. What is the status of your examination of these issues?

On the first topic, I think it's never been more important to have some flexibility in tuition. In the face of budget cuts and in the face of our aspirations, our goal is to become better. I haven't wavered at all. The second issue: Graduate student stipends is also important. It's related to having revenue to provide scholarships, additional money to attract the best graduate students.

 

The university already co-manages Brookhaven National Lab. What is impeding strengthening ties with Brookhaven now? And what is needed to do more joint work with Cold Spring Harbor?

We do have very strong relations with Brookhaven, but I don't think we've always been strategic in our thinking. For example, we might be interested in a physicist. . . . If there's a gap in Brookhaven, could the person we're hiring help us and also fill that gap with Brookhaven and vice versa? . . . And then bring Cold Spring Harbor into that mix. Again, they bring some really powerful things to the table: molecular biology, genomics, basic research in cancer. . . . Working closely with them and Brookhaven, we can identify areas where we complement each other. I have very willing partners in Sam Aronson [at Brookhaven] and Bruce Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor. Right now, we're really working to take a good look at how to bring this alliance together. I'm going to have more to say on this soon.

 

The state is under financial strain. Gov. David A. Paterson has called for SUNY to make $90 million in midyear budget cuts. How much has Stony Brook been told to cut by SUNY administration? And where will those cuts be made?

We have not been given a number yet. Chancellor [Nancy] Zimpher has convened a working group to take a look at how to deal with these budget cuts. . . . Because of previous rounds of budget cuts, if there was fat in the system, that's gone and now we're really challenged. . . . How do we do this without cutting things like classes? . . . It's not how I would have chosen to begin my inauguration, but I'm an optimist. I still am very positive about Stony Brook. Our fundamentals are very sound: Faculty, students, the physical plant are very sound. We will persevere. But this will inhibit us, I think, to try to move to greatness . . .

If the state is unable to provide us with a reasonable base to do what we want to do, what we need to do to help our economy, help our region, they have to unshackle us. . . . Let us have flexible tuition, more freedom to do public and private partnerships.

 

What is your overall vision for Stony Brook?

First and foremost, we need to grow. We need to grow our faculty. Over the past decade we've seen growth in enrollment, but particularly in the past three years, we haven't seen concurrent growth in faculty. If we're going to be great, we need to give faculty time to engage in scholarship and engage in research. . . . My number one focus right now is to work with the university to develop a strategic plan to identify those areas where Stony Brook is hoping to be great, to obtain the resources [and] . . . improve the impact Stony Brook research has on Long Island and New York.

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