October 18, 2006

Celebrating Hope at Stony Brook Southampton

Sunny blue skies provided the picture-perfect backdrop on Saturday as elected officials and university representatives joined to celebrate the official opening of Stony Brook Southampton.

Members of the public mingled on the lawn, admiring the brand new Stony Brook Southampton sign, which heralds the advent of a new day for the campus.

A festive feeling was in the air and bright balloons were flying high as the school's first-ever marching band and cheerleaders, decked out in red, white and blue, strutted their stuff and performed for the appreciative crowd.

Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney served as emcee for the event and stated his pleasure at the rebirth of the site as an educational facility. "If others had had their way, today might have been entirely different," he said, adding that it was the passion of a small group of concerned advocates, Save Our College, as well as the efforts and vision of officials including New York State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, that offered a different ending to what could have been a grim picture.

"Now, this brick and mortar will not ever serve as the foundation for a new subdivision," said Heaney. Instead, said the supervisor, the campus will shine as an educational institution.

Stony Brook President Shirley Strum Kenny said academic programs will focus on an interdisciplinary approach to ecological and environmental sustainability.

"This is just the beginning of something very special in American higher education," she said.

Although the campus currently has approximately 200 students taking undergraduate courses in marine biology, Kenny said expansion of programs will continue in the spring and especially next fall, when things will be in full swing.

Five years down the line, the goal is to have a facility attended by over 2000 students with an emphasis on "how to make our world sustainable," she said.

In addition to the environmental and marine science programs, a Masters in Fine Arts program will be offered. And the much beloved Writers Conference will return to the campus next summer.

Reflecting on the day's celebratory nature, Heaney said, "None of this would have happened without partnerships on all levels of government."

LaValle was at a breakfast when he learned that Long Island University's Southampton campus would be closing. "In a nanosecond, I thought, 'What a great opportunity for Stony Brook,'" he recalled, adding that as chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, he was able to secure $35 million in funding to facilitate the purchase.

The senator said the future was bright for East End residents, who now have the opportunity for "synergy between higher education and the community."

Thiele said although elected officials might not always see eye-to-eye, they were unanimous in their desire to have a college campus remain on-site.

The assemblyman said in the few days since the new sign was unveiled there have been big changes. "Already, I've seen things I've never seen before — a marching band, cheerleaders, a mascot. Stony Brook has brought something here that money can't buy — hope, optimism and opportunity. These are the intangible things a college brings."

Stony Brook University purchased the former Southampton College for $35 million, taking possession of the 82-acre property, after LIU announced in 2004 that it would close its undergraduate programs at the campus.

In September 2005, the SUNY Board of Trustees authorized the purchase of the campus. Stony Brook and LIU reached a final agreement on the conditions of the purchase in March.

Also present to speak in lieu of her husband, Congressman Tim Bishop, was his wife, Kathy, who said in its new incarnation, Stony Brook "will become the campus we always wanted it to be." Bishop is a former provost for the school.

Shinnecock Tribal Chief Lance Gumbs was enthusiastic and said he hoped to work collaboratively with Stony Brook, regarding the reservation's oyster and marine biology programs. "It's a new day," he said. "We're excited."

Stony Brook will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

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