I scheduled a meeting with Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. during his office hour sessions open to students on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
Early on, I asked, “What are some of the school’s primary goals going forward [and] What are you allocating your resources to?”
Stanley highlighted that the school hopes to continue improving graduation rates (as Stony Brook’s four-year graduation rate has increased from 48 percent to 68.6 percent from 2013 to 2018), opening up research opportunities for students (as research grew by 6.7 percent last year to Stanley’s delight) and improving the diversity and continuity on campus, as to ensure no feelings of isolation and improve the sense of a campus community.
I pushed back a bit on Stanley’s reply, and asked if the uptick in graduation was due to better students or lower standards from the university.
Stanley replied that student input has improved over time, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the standards for graduation have come down. He added that Stony Brook is actually outperforming the initial quality of its input. Stanley noted that the grade point average for incoming freshmen is approximately 3.8, but each class has shown higher graduation rates than would be predicted by the quality of the class based on GPA, SAT scores and other variables.
Stanley further asserted that the third way to improve the four-year graduation rate is to help existing students thrive at Stony Brook, as achieved by improving advising, scheduling and academic support.
This response impressed me, as Stanley seems to have a good grasp on the school’s current academic standing and data relevant to markers of student success.
Then I asked, “What are the biggest issues that Stony Brook faces in managing its budget?”
Stanley claimed that many budgeting problems come from the fact that the university’s costs are increasing faster than its revenue.
“The revenue we have has come through state allocation, which hasn’t gone up since 2007,” Stanley said. “In 2007, we received $200 million a year from the state to help manage Stony Brook. We now receive $157 million dollars a year, and its been frozen since 2009.”
The lack of state aid, coupled with increasing salary demands, has left the university in a position where it needs to cut its budget even with marginal increases in tuition.
“We have seen some increases from the state for fringe benefits to cover salaries,” Stanley said. “But the salaries themselves Stony Brook covers through state funds. And the other way we get money is through tuition and we’ve had recently a tuition increase of $200 per year in this class. Every year the current contract for UUP will increase the cost of salaries by about $10-12 million. What we’ll gain for the [tuition] increase is about $2.3 million per year, a $10 million gap. That means we have to take spending out of the budget.”
I think this is an interesting dilemma, if what Stanley describes is accurate. Budget constraints can be difficult to manage and I sympathize with the situation, but certainly don’t want to pay much more in tuition. It seems unfair that individual students have to deal with the repercussions of these macro-level budget maneuverings, but ultimately Stanley is left to choose between the most pragmatic of several unfavorable options. It’s not an easy situation to handle.
In closing, I asked President Stanley, “What keeps you up at night, and what wakes you up in the morning?”
Stanley responds, “The things that keep me up at night are all about safety on campus… making sure the campus is as safe as possible. What gets me up in the morning is students, working with students, you know commencement day is my favorite day of the year… research is number two and students are number one.”
Assuming that Stanley’s response was sincere, I think it’s a noble one. However, in recalling this response now, it seems somehow pre-planned or generic, as it’s so fitting for his role as president. I suppose it’s good that the president cares for students so much.
Ultimately, President Stanley’s responses impressed me and it seems like the school is under the supervision of a very thoughtful, intelligent individual. I anticipate Stony Brook will continue to improve in the coming years.