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Hundreds expected to protest possible Stony Brook U. program cuts, organizers say

The entrance to the Stony Brook University campus

The entrance to the Stony Brook University campus in Stony Brook on April 30, 2015. Credit: Heather Walsh

Hundreds of Stony Brook University students, faculty and staff are expected to rally Wednesday in protest of possible consolidations and suspensions to academic programs — part of an effort to close a $1.5 million budget deficit in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The March for Humanities, organized by the Graduate Student Employee Union, is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in front of the Student Activities Center.

Over the last week, administrators released detailed proposals to scale back several programs, including theater arts, dance, health sciences and disability studies, while also merging several language and literature departments.

The plan is not final, administrators have said, and decisions are being made with the input of department chairs and the university’s faculty senate. Depending on the programs affected, a plan may need the approval of State University of New York officials.

“We hope this rally tells this administration that we are not going to accept the cuts to the students and faculty that are the life force of the college at the same time that we have a bloated administration that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on branding and marketing campaigns,” said Anna Sitzmann, a philosophy Ph.D. candidate who is among those organizing the event on behalf of graduate-level teaching and research assistants.

The students have circulated petitions and launched a social media campaign. This week, final exams are being given. SBU’s graduation is on May 19.

Stony Brook has a total enrollment of more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Administrators have blamed the projected 2018 budget deficit on a lack of state funding and anticipated 2 percent raises expected to be paid to faculty members universitywide who are represented by the United University Professions, according to four different chairs of departments.

UUP President Fred Kowal said the 42,000-plus union members across SUNY campuses have been working without a contract since July 1 and continue to negotiate for a new agreement.

“It angers me that they [Stony Brook officials] would be putting this out. The union has fought very hard for funding by the state to cover mandatory costs, such as future salary increases,” Kowal said.

“We are looking at all aspects of the university in an extremely challenging budget environment,” said Michael Bernstein, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “That said, no final decisions have been made on any program changes at this time. Should changes be made to programmatic offerings, the university ensures that all current students will be able to complete the course of study in which they are enrolled.”

Humanities faculty, however, said that’s little consolation for the potential loss of intellectual capital on campus.

“The administration has laid out a plan to decimate humanities departments to save the money needed to cover this shortfall,” said Robert Harvey, chairman of cultural studies and comparative literature, one of the departments that could be negatively affected by the budget cuts. “If this plan is carried out, students attending Stony Brook University will no longer be able to receive the kind of first-class education that they have had, and that is expected at a top-tier university.”

Harvey, who will not attend the march, has specifically spoken out against a plan to collapse the Department of European Languages, Literature and Cultures, the department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, and the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature into a single department.

Arthur Samuel, chairman of SBU’s psychology department, said he is supporting the protest even though his program would be unaffected by the proposed cuts. Samuel said he would like to see more state money allocated to the campus or a review of the entire university budget.

“Is Arts and Sciences the place to make cuts if cuts need to be made?” Samuel said.

A meeting is scheduled May 17 to discuss alternative options to the proposed cuts, SBU officials have said.

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