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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Input for SBU's search for new president

A sign for Stony Brook University is pictured

A sign for Stony Brook University is pictured March 1, 2018. Credit: Barry Sloan

Town-gown relations between Stony Brook University and the surrounding community have ebbed and flowed over the years. Now, as the school embarks on a search for a new president in the wake of the departure of Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr., a pair of civic associations in the Three Village area want to strengthen that link. 

They want a seat on the search committee for Stanley's successor. 

"As leaders of our community’s oldest and largest civic organizations, we are well aware of the many benefits of being the home community of a large world class university," the groups wrote in an Aug. 19 letter to SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson. "But with those benefits come many challenges for our small community. We think it would be beneficial that the search committee include a civic representative, especially considering the enormous impact SBU has on the surrounding community."

The letter was co-signed by Jonathan Kornreich and George Hoffman, president and vice president, respectively, of the Three Village Civic Association, and by Andrew Polan and Charles Lefkowitz, president and vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.  

The groups say that a community advisory committee was dissolved years ago by former university president Shirley Strum Kenny. And they don't minimize the importance of the university to the community, pointing out that it is a source of jobs and helps keep property values in the area high. As Hoffman told The Point, "It's a huge institution. We'd just like to be a partner on some level. One voice on the search committee can't be destructive...We think we can be an asset."

Among the issues the civic groups are concerned about are a proposed public-private partnership next to the Stony Brook train station that calls for 500 student housing units, retail and other elements; a campuswide parking problem that affected senior citizens enrolled in the university's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; and the possibility that the university might issue an easement for traffic to and from the controversial Gyrodyne parcel adjacent to the campus.

SUNY regulations, however, strictly define the search committee's membership and it does not include a community representative per se. The makeup: one undergraduate and one graduate student, one academic dean, one alumni representative, one professional or support staff member and seven full-time teaching faculty (the professors will be elected from among those nominated).

The criteria were outlined in a letter to Stony Brook students, faculty and staff from Kevin Law, the Long Island Association president who also is chair of the Stony Brook Council and, therefore, chair of the search committee.

In an email to The Point, Law noted that he intends to appoint Council member Christopher Hahn, an attorney, political pundit and former Nassau County chief deputy county executive, to the search committee; Hahn lives in the Three Village area. Law noted that he lives in neighboring St. James, adding that many of the faculty representatives will likely live in the community as well.

Will that suffice for the community groups? After all, representation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.


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