At Stony Brook’s annual State of the University Address on Wednesday, Sept. 27, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. celebrated 60 years of progress at Stony Brook.
What started off as a small local college with 14 professors and an inaugural graduating class of 40 students has expanded into a massive university with 1,900 full time faculty members and 7,313 graduates in the class of 2017.
This evolution has not come without growing pains, the most recent being a nearly $35 million budget deficit. President Stanley assured audience members that this problem would not jeopardize the university’s well-being in the long term.
“It’s not been uncommon in the history of the university, in part based on activities from the state, for the university to run into budget deficits,” he said. “But every time they’ve come out, and every time they’ve come out stronger than they were before.”
The president tried to put the massive number into perspective, noting that it only accounted for 2-3.5 percent of Stony Brook’s total budget. “It’’s not a gigantic number in terms of the total budget at Stony Brook University, but it’s one we have to deal with and one we can’t ignore,” he said.
Stanley said financial issues could all be traced back to a lack of extra funding caused by the end of the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program and the state’s failure to account for upcoming mandatory salary increases in its allocation to Stony Brook.
He then tried to disprove the idea that unnecessary administrative spending was to blame for the deficit. “The bottom line is that most of the hiring we’ve done at Stony Brook since 2008 and 2009 has been in instructional components,” Stanley said. “Administration, in terms of administrative staff, has actually fallen by 84 people during this time.”
The main area where the university hopes to cut back, Stanley said, is in salary spending. “We have a large number of permanent employees and a large number of tenured faculty so that limits where we can work and what we can do in this area.” He noted that the university administration would do its best to save money by leaving unfilled positions open rather than firing existing faculty.
Despite this, Stanley noted that personnel spending would not come to a halt altogether. “We’re going to continue to hire in selected areas in the university,” he said. “We need to be able to do that to be competitive.”
The president instructed academic units not to make cuts across all their programs, but rather, to review which programs were of greater benefit to the university overall in years past. “We need to make sure we’re investing our scarce resources in the areas where we have the most impact possible,” he said.
Moving forward, Stanley said the school would remain committed to advancing strategies for fundraising. “It makes a huge difference to us. We put a significant investment on our fundraising infrastructure. It’s led to much greater alumni engagement in university activities. It’s led to more alumni giving to Stony Brook University,” he said, pointing to a roughly $45.1 million increase in annual giving since 2011.
Increasing research funding will be another area of focus for Stony Brook in coming years. Despite having received $169.2 million in National Science Foundation grant funding this year, a 5 percent increase from 2016, Stanley said this was not enough.
“When you line us up and compare us with our [Association of American University] peers, this is the area where we’re most deficient,” he said.
To account for this, the Facilitating Researcher Success program was created. Around 85 faculty members brainstormed ideas for how to improve the effectiveness of research on campus. They plan to release a report with suggestions in the near future.
Graduation rates were another important area of discussion in the address. Stanley applauded the university’s various academic success initiatives including the Finish in 4 advising team, the academic success tutoring center and the use of predictive analytics to help identify struggling students early on. These programs have helped Stony Brook go from a 46 percent four-year graduation rate in 2009 to a current rate of 57 percent.
Although Stony Brook has pulled itself out of the bottom quartile in rankings of AAU institutions, Stanley says he wants to go further. “We need to be in the top quartile,” he said. “When I look at schools like UC Davis and UC Irvine, which have similar student body populations to Stony Brook, that tells me that we should be able to achieve that kind of outcome.”
While discussing Stony Brook Medicine, Stanley took on a more enthusiastic tone as he mentioned various accomplishments including the recent acquisition of Southampton Hospital and the upcoming groundbreaking of the $460 million Medical and Research Translation Building.
“What we envision and what we’re trying to accomplish is healthcare excellence from Montauk to Manhattan,” he said.
The president spent a good deal of time discussing what has become a signature issue for him: diversity. Stony Brook hit an all-time high in terms of student diversity representation with this year’s incoming freshmen. The class of 2021 is 7.2 percent black and 11.1 percent Hispanic.
In terms of faculty diversity, Stanley said it was an area that still needed work. As of now, 60 percent of faculty at Stony Brook are men and 67 percent are white. “We’re trying to change how we recruit, how we reach out, how we retain and how we change again campus climate and culture so this is a welcoming place for faculty and diverse faculty to come,” he said. Stanley then encouraged all faculty to take part in diversity training “This helps people develop cultural competencies and help them eliminate their hidden biases and may impact in their promotion decisions.”
The president closed his speech by highlighting Professor Dave Ferguson from the department of technology and society. Ferguson recently helped to secure a $4 million five-year grant from the NSF aimed at increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees earned by students from underrepresented minority populations.
“This kind of work has tremendous benefit to the university,” Stanley said. “Our ability to kind of do high-quality research but at the same time provide access to help students who are economically disadvantaged come to a great university and then help them succeed at that university and then help them go out and engage in a profession that not only they find rewarding but also helps them economically, that builds fundamentally the core of what we do.”