Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. apologized for the disruption in students' lives at a meeting Monday afternoon to which more than 50 former Southampton students had been invited – but which was attended by only seven students.
The apology was mandated by the terms of between Stony Brook University and the students who sued the school after it shut down most of the Southampton campus and relocated the sustainability studies program to the main campus. None of the six plaintiffs in the case were present, although a representative of Save the College at Southampton, another group involved in the lawsuit, was present.
The meeting was also not attended by two politicians supporting the students in the original lawsuit. State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, and Assemb. Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, who fought alongside the Southampton students as their lawsuit progressed, did not attend the meeting. The politicians said they took issue with the fact that Stanley's apology meeting was not only closed to the public, but was also scheduled on the same day of the university's 9/11 memorial, which started at noon and lasted a little over an hour.
"This meeting is the students' meeting, not President Stanley's," Thiele said in a statement. "It should be public. Stony Brook University is a public university supported by public tax dollars. President Stanley's decision to close Southampton was made behind closed doors. The University Council's subsequent decision was made behind closed doors in an executive session. The remedy is transparency, not another closed door meeting."
The meeting was also closed to the press, but according to excerpts from Stanley's remarks released following the meeting, the apology began as follows:
"Let me start by saying that on behalf of Stony Brook University, it is unfortunate that we had to relocate programs from Southampton due to budget constraints; a necessary decision from a financial perspective. I am sorry that the decision disrupted your lives and your plans and the lives and plans of other Southampton students. We did many things to try to ease the transition from Southampton to Main campus and we are open to hearing any other ideas you may have."
Following the meeting, Stanley said he felt the meeting provided the necessary closure.
"This has been a very tough thing for the students involved," he said. "This has been a very tough thing, in some sense, for the administration. I think this meeting today was designed to help us reach some closure on this and I think it went a long way towards doing that."
Students at the meeting, however, had some mixed feelings.
Dana Cutolo is a senior environmental studies major who said she has experienced difficulty finding the classes she'll need to graduate on time after her program's relocation to the main campus.
"The apology was kind of read off a sheet of paper," she said. "It was not personal, exactly. It was a little awkward but I’m glad it happened."
Gabrielle Andersen, a senior majoring in environmental design, policy and planning, said she thought the students' fight "made a difference ultimately."
"I think that [the apology] started off to be more of a mandated type of thing," she said, but eventually "I think they realized that we’re people."
Despite to publicly apologize for unlawfully cutting a student degree program, Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. held Monday's meeting behind closed doors at Stony Brook.
University officials declined to comment immediately, though State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, and Assemb. Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, criticized the decision earlier in the day to hold the meeting on Monday in the first place, hoping instead to hold a meeting in public later this week.
Only a handful of more than 50 students who were invited attended Monday's meeting, which started at 2 p.m.
The politicians said they took issue with the fact that Stanley's apology meeting – mandated under the terms of a , over which the students and university now disagree – was not only closed to the public, but also scheduled on the same day of the university's 9/11 memorial, which started at noon and lasted a little over an hour.
"This meeting is the students' meeting, not President Stanley's," said Thiele in a statement. "It should be public. Stony Brook University is a public university supported by public tax dollars. President Stanley's decision to close Southampton was made behind closed doors. The University Council's subsequent decision was made behind closed doors in an executive session. The remedy is transparency, not another closed door meeting."
University officials said Stanley may address the media following the meeting.
Six students and the nonprofit corporation Save the College at Southampton sued Stony Brook University after learning in April 2010 of the decision to shutter the dorms in Shinnecock Hills and move the undergraduate sustainability program to the main campus. A state Supreme Court judge had , declaring that the move to shut down the undergraduate program at the campus was unlawful, but the ruling fell short of ordering the university to restore Stony Brook Southampton to what it was.
Under the settlement, the sustainability program that was transplanted from Southampton to the main campus will remain intact through 2014, the university will fund a sustainability conference at the Southampton campus, the university will pick up the students’ outstanding attorney’s fees — and Stanley must meet with the students to apologize.
According to the terms of the settlement, “The purpose of the meeting is for the president to have an opportunity to apologize for the disruption to the lives of the student-petitioners and other students caused by the transfer of the sustainability program from the Southampton Campus to the Stony Brook Campus.”