The head of Stony Brook University’s largest college announced Monday he will step down from his post, as budget cuts and liberal arts program changes continue to roil the 25,000-student public campus.
College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sacha Kopp, who announced last spring a series of undergraduate and graduate academic department suspensions, sent a letter via email to faculty and staff of his plan to leave without a specific reason, but alluding to budgetary constraints. Stony Brook University officials sent a copy of the email to Newsday.
“Despite this unbounded optimism about the College, I am mindful of the frustration felt over the substantial operating deficit we inherited and the additional significant cuts visited on the College during these last four years,” said Kopp, 50, a physics professor who has been dean since August 2014. “I have shared your disappointment over this unfortunate reality and done my best to insure that the College both meets its core obligations to its students and sustains and builds its programs of excellence.”
His departure, effective July 1, comes as the College of Arts and Sciences struggles to close a $4.1 million budget deficit, part of a larger, $35 million projected funding gap universitywide.
Michael A. Bernstein, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs , said in a statement Monday he would work to identify an interim dean.
“His energy, vision and leadership helped the College continue its pursuit of excellence in education, scholarship, art-making and professional service,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein credited Kopp with increasing the number of arts, humanities and social science majors in the freshman class and increasing the number of endowed professorships in the college. Kopp oversaw a 30 percent increase in the number of black and Latino students in the college as well, Bernstein said.
Kopp drew ire last spring from some students and faculty after announcing the decision to suspend admission into the theater arts, comparative literature and cinema arts departments, and the consolidation of several language disciplines.
Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and professors last May participated in a March for Humanities on campus that included a sit-in outside Kopp’s office. With chants such as “Open the door” and “Lunch with the dean,” the students had said they wanted administrators to address their concerns over the imbalance in resources at the university between science disciplines and liberal arts. Students also demonstrated inside the administration building, where SBU president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s office is located.
The wave of opposition — which continued through the summer and during the fall 2017 semester — included various petitions, calls and letters to State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson. More than 50 of the university’s most prominent professors with the rank of “distinguished faculty” chimed in, voicing their “profound concern” with the state of their university, calling the moves “exceptionally alarming.”
“He’s been under great pressure from the faculty for a while,” said Mark Aronoff, distinguished professor of linguistics, who signed the letter to the chancellor even though his department is not impacted by the budget cuts. “A lot of the anger sort of coalesced around him.”
Kopp was not the subject of no-confidence votes by the university Senate, Aronoff said, but most of the chairpersons “had unofficially lost confidence in his leadership.”
Details on whether Kopp will stay at the university and return to a faculty position or leave for another position were not provided.
Kopp’s total pay for 2017 was $362,086, according to a public employee database compiled by the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank based in Albany.
He did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment Monday.
The university’s current total operating budget is $2.9 billion.