President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. during the State of the University address on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Stanley spoke about the university’s four-year graduation rate of 62 percent, which was the highest the university has had. GARY GHAYRAT/THE STATESMAN

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. discussed the gains Stony Brook University has made over the past year in spite of budgetary challenges at the annual State of the University address at the Staller Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 3.  

Speaking to more than 400 students, faculty, staff and others, Stanley celebrated the university’s achievements, including the highest number of freshman applicants and enrollment, the highest four-year graduation rate of 62 percent and the most successful fundraising campaign in SUNY history, the Campaign for Stony Brook, which raised $630.7 million.

“Ninety-eight percent of that money raised is directly allocated to specific goals that our donors have on campus,” such as scholarships, endowed professorships, research projects and buildings, Stanley said. The money cannot be used to cover the school deficit because people “donate and invest in Stony Brook for very special reasons, and they really expect us to take care of keeping the lights on and the other things that allow us to do the work we do.”

Stanley announced that even though Stony Brook University reduced State Purpose expenses by $26 million at the end of the 17/18 fiscal year, which he explained as both good news and bad news, the hiring freeze that started in March will continue “for the time being.”

The reduced expenditure helps balance the university budget, Stanley said. “But it also means that for some people, the person sitting next to you may have left the university and because of the hiring hold, there’s no one at that desk. And so, your work has increased.”

“We’ve worked very hard to do this through attrition, not through layoffs, and that’s been a goal of ours,” he said. “So, I thank everyone, again, who’s had to worker harder because of this.”

Stanley covered many other topics regarding the university, but when he mentioned a seminar about implicit bias and sexual misconduct, a dozen or so students held up signs reading “enforce Title IX,” “SBU doesn’t care” and “fire Larry Frohman,” referring to a history professor who has been accused of sexually degrading a former student.  

Facing the audience, few of the students stood silently with signs in their hands while Stanley continued his speech without missing a beat. School officials, mostly seated in the front rows, looked back in confusion, seemingly unable to read the signs. Some audience members in the back rows snapped pictures and recorded videos. Silent protesters left the arena in groups after about 10 minutes.

One of the protestors, vice president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and senior applied mathematics and statistics major, David Clark, said he believes that Frohman should be fired.

“President Stanley, while he’s bragging about how good Stony Brook is about gender equality, that we’re a HeforShe school, at the same time, there are multiple ongoing Title IX lawsuits from former graduate student Sara Tubbs, graduate student Erin Mosier. There was also another student, Tiffany Kormendi, who wrote in The Statesman about how professor Frohman treated her,” Clark said.

Chief Diversity Officer LeManuel Bitsóí said he wasn’t able to see the protest signs from where he was sitting, but after learning what they read he said “that means our students are engaged, that means they’re paying attention.”       

Referring to a new cultural competency seminar on implicit bias and sexual misconduct that is mandatory for all faculty and staff, he emphasized the importance of training campus educators and making the university a safe space.

“This is something we need to do because it was brought to our attention,” Bitsóí said. “It was brought to our attention not only from students but also staff and faculty to really address these issues of microaggressions in classrooms and learning spaces; and also sexual misconduct, discrimination, bullying, all of those things are need to be addressed.”

While discussing student life initiatives, Stanley acknowledged that a record high enrollment of 3,383 freshmen this year led to housing shortages. About 800 students were tripled, he said, but the new West J residence hall, which opened in late September, will provide an additional 173 beds to alleviate the situation.

“For those students who may have been tripled, sorry about that,” Stanley said. “But we really do want to get people un-tripled where we can, and I think these 173 beds will help us with that.”

Stanley also shared that Stony Brook University students who receive Pell grants — federal subsidies for college tuition — graduate at a higher rate than students who don’t receive them, black and white students graduate at the same rate with both groups growing in the past few years and the highest four-year and six-year graduation rates have played a major factor in the U.S. News & World Report ranking the university No. 32 among public universities in the U.S. and moving it from No. 97 to No. 80 among U.S. universities compared to the previous year.

“No one ranking defines the quality of a university, but people pay attention to these,” Stanley said. “I know we’ve had a number of challenges over the past year and I know we continue to face challenges at the university, so things can sometimes seem difficult to get done. That’s why sometimes it’s nice to look at how people view from the outside.”

Stanley said the state’s allocation for the university has remained flat since 2010. The increase in tuition, fees and enrollment of domestic, out-of-state and international students has created revenues of about $8 million. Total increase in contractual salary costs, including retroactive payments, is estimated at $33 million. To maintain a balanced budget, Stanley said units across the campus have committed to reduce their expenditures by about $13 million.

“We’re in active communications with the state right now on this issue to try to get an increase in state allocation particularly to cover retroactive components of the salary increases,” Stanley said.

Stanley said the university will advocate for a fiscal solution, but won’t be able to solve everything on its own, and that issues around state allocation and potential tuition increase are “political issues” that requires political, governmental and state solutions.

Stony Brook University continues to have significant economic impact on Long Island with $7.2 billion output coming to Long Island and New York State, according to Economics & Population Professor at Stony Brook Medicine, John Rizzo, Stanley said.

“Yes, the university is facing economic challenges, but in spite of that, we still continue to grow in many areas, bring innovative research to the university, deliver quality services to support and increase student enrollment,” Associate Dean & Director of Multicultural Affairs, Cheryl Chambers, said. “I think that we’re still continue to move in the right direction. We have really built an institution that is committed to diversity and inclusion… and this is a place that, I think, more and more students will want to pursue their college education, as well as a place that more faculty and administrators will want to be at.”