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Stony Brook U. president to take helm at Michigan State

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. became the fifth president of Stony Brook University in 2009. On Aug. 1, he takes over a university that was rocked by a sex-abuse scandal.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., second from left,

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., second from left, at a Michigan State University board of trustees meeting in East Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday. Photo Credit: AP / Paul Sancya

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the leader of Stony Brook University for nearly a decade, will become president of Michigan State University on Aug. 1, he and officials at both schools announced Tuesday.

Stanley, 65, will take charge of a 50,000-student university that has operated with acting or interim presidents since January 2018, when Lou Anna Simon resigned in the fallout of the sex-abuse scandal over former campus doctor Larry Nassar's molestation of female gymnasts and other athletes.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said she  would work with the board of trustees to appoint an interim president and assemble a committee to conduct a national search for a permanent leader at Stony Brook, which has a student body of more than 26,000 and faculty of about 2,700.

"Under Dr. Stanley’s leadership, Stony Brook University has become a vibrant center of research and one of the most highly regarded universities in the nation,” Johnson said.

Michigan State's board of trustees unanimously elected Stanley to serve as the university's 21st president, board chairwoman Dianne Byrum said. The trustees appointed an 18-member search committee last August, co-chaired by Byrum and MSU trustee Melanie Foster.

Stanley, who was in East Lansing for the announcement, said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve at Michigan State, one of the world's leading research universities.

"I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution," he said in a statement posted on Michigan State's website. "We will meet these challenges together, and we will build on the important work that has already been done to create a campus culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, accountability and safety that supports all of our endeavors.”

Stanley will make $800,000 annually during a five-year contract at Michigan State and will be eligible for an annual performance bonus of up to 20 percent, or $160,000. The school will contribute an additional $100,000 a year  in deferred compensation.

At Stony Brook, his current yearly salary is $449,453 and he earns an additional $280,000 annually from the Stony Brook Foundation, according to SUNY officials.

During  Stanley's tenure, Stony Brook received the sixth-largest donation to a public university ever recorded. The $150 million gift came in 2011 from billionaire philanthropists Jim and Marilyn Simons and the Simons Foundation. Stanley also led the university’s expansion into the growing field of artificial intelligence. 

Jim Simons, in a telephone interview, said Stanley will be greatly missed. A former chairman of Stony Brook's mathematics department,  Simons served on the search committee that helped recruit Stanley as president.

“Sam has been an outstanding president,” Simons said. “I’m very sorry he’s moving. I think he just felt after 10 years that he was looking for a challenge, and Michigan State will certainly be that. It’s going to be a struggle to find a comparable replacement. But we’ll do it.”

The announcement came after Stanley had helped honor the largest graduating class in Stony Brook's history during its 59th commencement Friday, held  in Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.

LaValle, in an statement, said he appreciated Stanley's leadership. "For a decade, Sam Stanley has carried that mantle admirably as he carefully and actively guided the University," he said.  

Stanley expressed his gratitude to the chancellor, SUNY board of trustees and others in a note to faculty, students and staff, listing such accomplishments as "eliminating differences between our student populations in graduation rates, growing sponsored research expenditures to new highs, exceeding goals in fundraising, significantly improving our health care enterprise, strengthening our relationship with Brookhaven National Laboratory, hitting all-time highs in our national rankings, and committing our university to an international leadership role in social mobility, diversity, inclusiveness and equity."

Before becoming Stony Brook's president in 2009, Stanley was vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he is an expert in infectious diseases.

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, said Stanley helped Stony Brook become “the flagship of the SUNY system and brought Stony Brook on par with the finest public universities in the country and, in addition, he made Stony Brook an integral part of the region’s economic development efforts.”

Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, who co-chairs the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, called Stanley "a thoughtful, forward-thinking president who brought a spirit of collaboration and a scientist’s discerning eye to his leadership of Stony Brook University. He understood and embraced the role a university plays in the life of a community."

The leader of United University Professions, the Albany-based higher education union that represents 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees across New York, requested that its members "have a role in the interview and selection process" of Stony Brook's president.

"We also hope that SUNY sees this as an opportunity to enhance diversity in campus leadership, a goal that SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson has endorsed and which UUP strongly supports," Frederick E. Kowal, the union's president, said in a statement.

Stanley's tenure has not been without controversy. Cuts to liberal arts programs have been a point of contention, with students saying humanities courses were unfairly targeted. In 2017, the university suspended student admissions into its theater arts, comparative literature and cinema arts departments and consolidated several language disciplines in an effort to close a $1.5 million funding gap in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Andrew Dobbin, Stony Brook campus chair of the Graduate Student Employees Union and a critic of the president, said Tuesday that Stanley had initiated a false austerity budget based around a budget crisis that was "manufactured."

“He has systematically divested in the core mission of the University, which is to educate people, and he primarily focused just on fame-chasing, clout-chasing and investing in shiny projects such as large new buildings,” said Dobbin, 31, a graduate student in philosophy.

Stanley, in an email to the campus in March, said an independent review of the university’s finances that showed a surplus was “misleading."

With John Hildebrand

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