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Court seeks compliance from Stony Brook on Southampton closing

Students hang a sign to protest Stony Brook

Students hang a sign to protest Stony Brook University's plan to close its Southampton campus. (April 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A State Supreme Court judge ordered Stony Brook University on Thursday to show it has complied with the court's ruling that the school must get approval from its advisory council to close much of its Southampton campus, in response to a motion filed on behalf of the students who sued to block the closure.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the SUNY board of trustees said Thursday he supports a resolution affirming the university's decision to shift some programs and residential housing from Southampton to the main campus, saying "triage" was needed in light of huge losses in state funding for SUNY.

Judge Paul J. Baisley Jr., who ruled in August and September that the school erred in not obtaining prior approval from its 10-member Stony Brook Council, as required for any "major plan," ordered the university Thursday to appear at an expedited hearing Nov. 4.

At issue: Whether the passage of a resolution at a council meeting on Oct. 4 supporting the partial closure satisfied the court's ruling.

Russell Penzer, the Melville lawyer representing the six students, argued in the motion filed Thursday that the council's action failed to do so.

"The University will continue to address the matter in court which is the appropriate forum," Stony Brook spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said in a statement.

State education law requires the university president to present major plans to the council, receive its recommendations, and present the plan and the recommendations to SUNY trustees.

At its Oct. 4 meeting, the council ratified a decision already implemented - and annulled by the court, Penzer said. His motion also argued that by discussing its Southampton resolution in executive session, the council violated state open meetings law.

Carl T. Hayden, chairman of the SUNY trustees, said Thursday the university's action was a "well-considered decision" in light of SUNY losing $634 million in state support over the past three years. "We've been forced into triage mode everywhere," he said.

The board's executive council was to have acted Wednesday on a resolution from SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to affirm the university's action, but the meeting was canceled after a power failure. Hayden said since the full board is to meet Nov. 17, the resolution is likely to be presented then.

Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) - who along with Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) have assailed the university's action - said Thursday they have been stymied in their efforts to reach a resolution with the university.

Hayden said he would like to see "cooperative engagement" between the university and politicians. "Lawsuits don't get us anywhere," said Hayden, a retired attorney.

Sheprow said the university is committed to working with the community and elected officials "to repurpose the Southampton campus," and has formed a committee to achieve that, but will continue "to abide by a court order preventing us from taking any action and await the court's final decision so that we can move forward."

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