A bright vision for Stony Brook

Artist rendering of Stony Brook University's proposed Medical Artist rendering of Stony Brook University's proposed Medical and Research Translation building Photo Credit: SUNY

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The aspiration to build a new cancer care and research building at Stony Brook University has been around for a while. Now, thanks to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's offer of $35 million each in capital funds to any of the four major SUNY campuses offering a plan to create jobs, the idea has moved to center stage. It's an exciting, high-potential next step in Stony Brook's development, and it will fill a significant medical need on Long Island. So it deserves to win the state's approval.

The eight-level, $194-million facility, to be constructed adjacent to the two towers of the university's medical center, would be called the Medical and Research Translation (MART) building. Translational research is about taking basic research from the lab, through clinical trials, to the marketplace for direct patient care. MART would include 25 biology labs, a 30-room clinic, and a 30-station center for chemotherapy. It would significantly expand the medical center's capacity to care for cancer patients -- at a time when the university says 37 percent of Suffolk's cancer patients travel outside the county for care.

A major focus of its research would be biomedical imaging, a field in which Stony Brook already has made historic contributions. Paul Lauterbur's work there led to magnetic resonance imaging, the now-ubiquitous MRI, and a Nobel Prize. So it's not hard to imagine Stony Brook scientists, working with dual appointments from Brookhaven National Laboratory, coming up with new imaging technology that will also become a household word.

That potential made MART a centerpiece of the plan Stony Brook leaders presented to Cuomo Wednesday -- in response to his SUNY 2020 challenge grant, directed at the four university centers.

In addition to its scientific-medical benefits, the building would create 4,200 construction-related jobs for an industry that is suffering deep unemployment.

The plan also calls for 245 new faculty hires over the next five years, tied to an 8 percent tuition increase each year. Stony Brook tuition is now $4,970. In the fifth year, it would be $7,303 -- still a lot less than the projected $10,665 median rate for the Association of American Universities, the organization of elite research institutions. Stony Brook would use 35 percent of the new revenue for financial aid to eligible students whose parents make less than $75,000. And it would help every student, by providing more professors, more class sections, and smaller class sizes.

But tuition increases -- as much as 5.5 percent per year for all state-operated SUNY campuses, and the higher tuition for the university centers -- are unpopular in the legislature. Still, Cuomo spoke in favor of a more predictable tuition structure, instead of the huge occasional spikes that the political process produced in the past, and he promised that the revenue produced by tuition increases would stay with SUNY and not get swept away to balance the state budget.

It's been easier for Stony Brook to get money to build buildings than to run them. The cancer center is a fine idea, but without the tuition increase, it would be impossible to fill it with top researchers. Improving this campus, so pivotal to the Island, and making a Stony Brook degree more valuable, don't come cheap.

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