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From the archives: Shirley Strum Kenny retires from Stony Brook

Former Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny.

Former Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny. (June 19, 2008) Credit: David L. Pokress

This story was originally published in Newsday on May 22, 2009

In a year full of lasts, retiring Stony Brook president Shirley Strum Kenny has rarely stopped to reflect or reminisce about her 15-year tenure.

At a recent meeting of her administrative cabinet, the talk bounced quickly from how the university would manage deep state budget cuts, to the impact the recession has had on the school's endowment and the launch of a new program to curb binge drinking among students.

"Does it look like she's winding down?" said Janice Rohlf, vice president of governmental relations, after the meeting.

Kenny shrugged.

"It's not a boring year," she said.

Today, Kenny will deliver her final commencement address, an event that is now held in the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, which like much of the campus did not exist when Kenny arrived.

"There are things that happen that you stop and think 'this is the last time I'll do that,'" Kenny said, "but I'm focused on what's happening right now. I'm trying to get everything I need to do done before I go."

Kenny, 73, Stony Brook's fourth president, the first woman and non-scientist, announced last summer that she would retire June 30. Dr. Samuel Stanley, vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis, takes over July 1.

"She may not feel it, but I feel very acutely the baton passing," said Mary Pearl, who was hired by Kenny to be dean of the new Southhampton Campus earlier this year.

Known for a forceful style, Kenny cultivated local and state politicians and business leaders to engineer major construction and expansion that included the stadium, a new student activities center, two satellite campuses and the school's takeover of Brookhaven Laboratory. The school also rose into the ranks of top research institutions.

At the same time, Kenny's style has detractors. In recent years, her involvement in the daily decisions of Stony Brook University Medical Center drew fire following the deaths of three children there in 2006. Kenny appointed a panel to evaluate hospital operations, but has never acted on its recommendation to cede some administrative control.

"Fifteen years is a long time to be a college president and can I tell you something, she'll be president - running meetings, making decisions - right up until June 30. She's made it clear," said Michael Russell, the state university trustee for Long Island.

After that, Kenny and her husband, Robert, will move to Washington, D.C., where four of their children live.

"I want a clean break," she said, insisting that her only thought about today's ceremony has been the weather.

"I just hope it doesn't rain," she said. "I would like a really sunny last commencement."


After serving as president of Queens College from 1985 to 1994, Shirley Strum Kenny became Stony Brook's first woman president.


Championed revamping of the undergraduate curriculum to encourage more research.

Oversaw $80 million in renovations to residence halls and improvements to campus. She built a student activities center, a new football stadium and added an academic mall.

Opened a new journalism school in 2006. Also purchased Southampton College and renamed it Stony Brook-Southampton


State Department of Health issued 36 citations and shut down Stony Brook University Medical Center's pediatric cardiac surgery program in 2006 after three children died there. A Kenny-appointed commission found no problems with the hospital's care, but criticized its leadership structure under Kenny.

Professors and students circulated a petition in May 2008 criticizing Kenny for what it described as the underfunding of the College of Arts and Sciences.




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