Acceptance into the undergraduate program in pharmacology has been suspended indefinitely, due to a programmatic decision from the College of Arts and Sciences, said Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacological Sciences Michael Frohman.
Faculty learned that the program was in jeopardy several months ago. Meanwhile, students were kept in the dark as the department negotiated a plan to try and save the major by using external funding. Students weren’t made aware until Jan. 30 when they received an email notifying them that the decision had been finalized.
“A donor was found who was willing to address the financial needs as initially described by CAS but this did not change the decision of CAS to end the major on a programmatic basis,” Frohman wrote in an email to The Statesman.
The details around why the CAS rejected this funding still remain unclear.
After making repeated attempts to contact Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sacha Kopp for clarification, The Statesman was redirected to Media Relations Manager for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Gregory Filiano without explanation.
Filiano provided the following statement via email: “After careful and strategic consideration, campus leadership determined the proposed solution to privately fund the program was not practical or sustainable.”
Although the CAS has halted funding for the program, the vast majority of instructors are employed by the School of Medicine, not the CAS.
“We can’t be directed [by the CAS] not to teach pharmacology,” Frohman explained, adding that they would continue to provide the required courses until everyone in the program graduates.
The one faculty member who was employed by the College of Arts and Sciences, Robert Watson, has since been reassigned to the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior.
Watson was responsible for teaching the two lab courses — BCP 403: Principles of Pharmacology Laboratory and BCP 404: Advanced Pharmacology Laboratory.
“The lab was taught at a high level, and where possible I brought real-world experiments into the classroom,” Watson stated via email. “Beyond just learning lab techniques, students were encouraged to think critically and creatively about the experiments they were performing.”
Watson’s departure, coupled with insufficient funding, has forced the department to make drastic changes to the labs so they can continue to offer them.
“You’ll still be able to get through 403 and 404, they’ll just be different in character than what you thought you were getting into,” Professor and Vice-Chairman of the department Paul Fisher said. “It will be writing papers, and in some cases be reading and doing independent study but it will still be called 403 and 404.”
Students will also have the option to take an equivalent lab in a different subject with permission from the department.
“This is the worst possible thing that could happen to the program because now we don’t have hands on lab coursework that could be applicable to finding a job right after graduation,” junior pharmacology major Irena Pigulevskiy said. “That just completely devalues our degree because that’s such an essential component of it.”
Pigulevskiy has chosen to continue pursuing a degree in pharmacology. But the cuts have provoked some students to change paths entirely. Take sophomore pharmacology and European studies major, Mark Falko, for example.
“For me, this is something that I don’t feel comfortable with. Graduating with a major that is no longer a major,” he said.
Falko came to Stony Brook specifically for the undergraduate pharmacology major, since it was one of only three universities in the U.S. that offered it. Around the same time he learned that pharmacology was in trouble, Falko overheard news that the European studies program was also at risk of losing funding.
“What do I do now, with no majors left?” he asked.
Now, after taking out $20,000 in student loans to attend Stony Brook, Falko said his goal is to pursue a degree in interdisciplinary studies and try to graduate as soon as possible. “I definitely would not have come to Stony Brook if I knew this would be the case.”
At a Feb. 1 informational meeting for all pharmacology majors, some students raised the idea of starting a petition to try and reverse the CAS’ decision. However, Frohman warned that protest was unlikely to result in any meaningful change.
“At the end of the day writing petitions isn’t going to help,” he said. “The dean, the provost and the president don’t argue with the fact that this is a fantastic program.”
He urged students to try and empathize with those in the administration, noting that many of the decisions being made were likely the result of budget cuts coming from the state level. “At the end of the day, they have to make hard decisions without having a precedent. No matter what, sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy.”
Setting the reasoning behind the cuts aside, Pigulevskiy said what upset her the most was the lack of transparency from the administration throughout the decision-making process.
Students were notified well after the major/minor declaration deadline and just days before the end of the add/drop date for enrollment, which Pigulevskiy said made things difficult for anyone trying to replan their schedules in accordance with the oncoming changes.
“When I heard it, it sort of seemed like my world was falling apart because everything that I had envisioned, that I had already meticulously planned for seemed like it could just be going to waste and that I’d have to reconsider everything,” she said.
While she has tried to maintain a positive outlook, Pigulevskiy said the fact that the CAS turned down an opportunity to fund the program is discouraging to say the least.
“It just goes to show that the school doesn’t care about its students,” she said. “I really fell in love with this field of study and I felt like it was extremely unfair to just have the rug pulled out from under me at such a late point in my academic career.”