Stony Brook University president Maurie McInnis is leaving to become...

Stony Brook University president Maurie McInnis is leaving to become president of Yale University. Credit: Barry Sloan

Daily Point

McInnis' ties to Yale, handling of campus Gaza protests and SBU achievements made her a top contender 

When Stony Brook University president Maurie McInnis was named Yale University’s new president Wednesday, it didn’t come as a complete surprise to most who’ve followed the search or McInnis’ career path.

Last month, the Yale Daily News mentioned McInnis, a Yale trustee who received her master’s degree and doctorate from Yale, as a potential contender for the university’s top job. At the time, the college newspaper noted that she fit the criteria of former Yale presidents and quoted her as saying she found it “personally fulfilling” to serve at the helm of Stony Brook. McInnis’ comments did not directly address whether she’d take a position at Yale.

Yale has been searching for a new president since last fall. But observers have noted that university presidential searches have become more complicated in the wake of concerns over antisemitism and protests on college campuses, and that the issue may have played a role in Yale’s search.

One of the top contenders for the Yale job was Jonathan Holloway, the president of Rutgers University. Holloway already had come under fire at Rutgers, where the university’s senate — made up of faculty, students and alumni — had passed a no-confidence vote last September on other unrelated issues. Then, this spring, Holloway came under additional criticism for choosing to negotiate with pro-Palestinian protesters who had formed an encampment at Rutgers. Last week, he testified before Congress, where he was grilled further.

McInnis, by contrast, shut down Stony Brook’s encampment by bringing in the police, who arrested 29 students and professors. At Yale earlier this spring, police made 48 arrests after a three-day encampment.

SUNY Chancellor John King told the Point that Yale’s decision to choose McInnis “points to how phenomenal Stony Brook is.”

“It’s natural for top institutions to recruit from Stony Brook,” King said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “That will pose a challenge for us as we want to keep our talent.”

McInnis, who will be Yale’s first female permanent president, has served as Stony Brook’s president since 2020. Stony Brook Council chairman Kevin Law told The Point that McInnis, who was then provost at the University of Texas at Austin, wasn’t initially on the school’s radar as a contender for the top job when the search began in the summer of 2019, but after Law interviewed her, he “knew she was going to be the one.”

“She was a rock star,” Law recalled.

Months later, in February 2020, Law and McInnis joined top Stony Brook donors Jim and Marilyn Simons for lunch in Manhattan.

“When the lunch was over, Jim looked at me and said, ‘Great job. We have our candidate,’” Law recalled. Last summer, the Simonses donated $500 million in unrestricted funds to the university, one of the largest charitable gifts ever given to an American public university. Jim Simons died earlier this month.

Stony Brook named McInnis as its next president on March 26, 2020, just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond managing the university through the pandemic, McInnis has been applauded for ratcheting up Stony Brook’s status, as the school became one of the state’s flagship universities and won the competition to lead the New York Climate Exchange on Governors Island under her watch.

Now, Law will again spearhead another presidential search. He noted that it would take time and that the university is likely to have an interim or acting president when school begins in the fall. But he noted that while it’s a difficult time to be a university president, especially in light of the recent campus upheaval and scrutiny, he expected the Stony Brook job would have many potential takers.

“It’s very prestigious to be president of such an important university, and you’re able to influence and impact the lives of students, staff and faculty. That outweighs some of the downsides,” Law said. “I feel optimistic that we will have a robust pool of candidates to choose from.”

King told The Point he hopes to find a successor to McInnis who “has a deep commitment to social mobility and the role of higher education… who is passionate about research and scholarship and has big ambitions for the role Stony Brook can play.”

That includes, King said, growing Stony Brook’s work in regional economic development and commercializing its research and development in ways that could lead the university to nurture “the next Jim Simons.”

King said he and other SUNY leaders already are “talking in earnest” about the presidential search.

“We want to make sure we have someone who is just as hard driving and ambitious for Stony Brook as Maurie has been,” King said.

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

Not so fast

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Final Point

Super PAC backs Darling against Bynoe 

A pro-charter school, billionaire-funded super PAC has spent money in a handful of primary races across the state this year. But the independent expenditure group, called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, has given the most money to Assemb. Taylor Darling, who is running in a State Senate primary against Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe.

The independent expenditures from New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany directed to assist Darling’s campaign total $265,150. According to state records, the funds were spent on direct mail campaigns and digital ad production and media buys. Among the recipients of the group’s funds are Slingshot Strategies, a Brooklyn political consulting and polling firm, Efficient Media Strategy in Melville and Tanglewood Advisors, which is listed with an address in Huntington.

The PAC, which is affiliated with StudentsFirstNY, a charter school advocacy group, has no limits on the contributions it can take in, or what it can spend — but it can’t coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns. Its big donors have included Michael Bloomberg, who contributed $1.5 million this year, Walmart heir Jim Walton and billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, who back in 2017 said in a Facebook post that State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” Loeb later deleted the comments and apologized.

Among the PAC’s other early contributors: Steve Cohen, the owner of the New York Mets, who gave the PAC $1 million in 2017, $850,000 in 2018, and another $850,000 in 2019. Just this week, Cohen’s proposed casino development on the parking lot next to Citi Field was dealt a blow when State Sen. Jessica Ramos said she wouldn’t support a state law that would allow a casino to be built on the Citi Field lot.

In an interview with The Point, Darling said she supports the district’s public schools, but recognizes that many of her constituents have children who attend charter schools.

“Parents have to have options. I’m going to be supportive of parents having options,” Darling said. “But I’m going to continue to work and resource our public schools — all of our public schools — throughout our district.”

Of the PAC, she added: “They’re supporting my vision.”

Meanwhile, an online poll emerged this week that seems to support Darling and target Bynoe. Among the questions is one about the proposal to build a casino resort at the Nassau Hub.

“Siela Bynoe claims to be a community advocate, but in 2023, she voted for the Las Vegas Sands casino at the Nassau Coliseum, a project that would have harmed vulnerable communities, particularly when it comes to public safety, traffic, and the economic and mental health associated with gambling. When she had to make a choice, Bynoe chose billionaire casino developers over vulnerable people,” the poll question began. “How convincing is this message?”

Darling told The Point that the poll did not come from her campaign, adding that she was trying to keep her messaging positive.

“I will never have a hand in tearing anyone down — but especially not another Black woman,” Darling said, adding that she didn’t know where the poll came from. “I will always defend myself, but I will never go negative.”

Darling said she neither agreed or disagreed with the sentiment of the question but added that she found the wording “divisive.”

So, did the poll come from the charter schools PAC, which once had support from one of Las Vegas Sands’ potential competitors? That’s unclear. But it does put the casino issue back on the front burner, at least in terms of the SD6 primary. And some observers are paying attention.

“The way the question is asked it’s obviously anti-casino and so it’s really a poll that is made to gather only one answer,” Long Island Federation of Labor president John Durso told The Point. “Siela has been an outstanding legislator and Taylor has done a good job representing a number of issues, including issues we have at Local 338, at the state level. But the casino is a separate issue. We are fully in support of the casino and it’s very hard for me to be supportive of somebody who’s going to be against a major job-creating position. That [opposition] would hurt the entire region we live in.”

— Randi F. Marshall

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