Stony Brook University has come under fire from New York State District One Assemblyman Fred Thiele for alleged mistreatment and neglect of the University’s Southampton campus in regard to lack of leadership, over a dozen condemned buildings and failure to apply for funding in order to repair those buildings.
Thiele appeared on CBS New York in February, where he called the campus the East End’s “biggest slumlord” — a term for landlords who maximize profits by poorly managing and maintaining properties.
Stony Brook acquired the Southampton campus in 2006 after the State University of New York (SUNY) system purchased the location from Long Island University. The school, residing on 84 acres of waterfront property in the Hamptons, is home to a series of Masters of Fine Arts programs and programs by the School of Health Professions.
Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences also has a large presence on the Southampton campus, with research and teaching facilities, as well as a program for undergraduate students called Semester by the Sea.
Despite the educational opportunities, the campus remains mostly barren and unused, with only 400 graduate students enrolled — half of them taking their classes online. The ones who remain on campus say it’s desolate, but appreciate the education they are receiving.
“[It’s] very bleak, very dull,” said Kylie Cuticho, a graduate student pursuing a degree in speech-language pathology. “I would say not a lot of life going on here, which is both good and bad for a master’s program, but I feel like it could be more hospitable. Education-wise, it’s good.”
Angela Morales, another graduate student studying speech pathology, echoed Cuticho’s statements.
“Around here? I mean, it could be livelier,” Morales said. “I mean with the few buildings that are active, they’re really nice. I mean, everything else, if you walk around it’s kind of dead. But I hope they change that eventually. Education-wise, it’s been great. There’s a lot of experiences we get granted because we’re at Stony Brook.”
In an interview with The Statesman, Thiele said that progress on improving the Southampton campus had been slowly coming along until the University’s former Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Matt Whelan left in 2020.
“We [had] made some slow and steady progress on the campus. The new Marine Sciences building was built there, with the legislature giving $10 million for that,” Thiele said. “The Marine Science Program has always been the cornerstone of that campus. The fine arts program continued to thrive.”
But after Whelan left, Thiele said that the campus has been languishing for approximately three years with no person in charge of leadership or strategic planning, grinding any progress to a halt.
In a statement made to The Statesman, University officials said that Stony Brook has launched a search to find a new vice president of strategic initiatives to replace Whelan — though for Thiele it is too little too late.
One area in which Thiele sees this lack of commitment and leadership is Southampton Hall, the historic centerpiece of the campus that has fallen into disrepair.
In 2018, former Stony Brook President Samuel Stanley pledged $5 million towards the renovation of Southampton Hall. Since then, no renovations have taken place, and Southampton Hall sits condemned with asbestos.
“You walk inside of the building and you see piles of animal feces and total disrepair there,” Thiele said. “You walk around to other buildings and see big red X’s on them.”
Southampton Hall is not out of place on campus — 17 other buildings are condemned with red X’s on the doors, including dormitories, academic buildings and even a former children’s school. Thiele said that these red marks are a visible indicator of the administration’s lack of commitment to the campus.
As part of the 2022-23 Fiscal Year State Budget, the New York State government created the Long Island Investment Fund (LIIF), a program that provides grants for eligible organizations with funding should they meet certain criteria. Colleges and universities are eligible to apply for funding, and the LIIF allows grants to be given out for “construction, expansion, and rehabilitation of facilities.”
Thiele was one of the state legislators involved in creating the fund.
In July 2022, Thiele and State Senator Anthony Palumbo wrote a letter to Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis advertising the program and strongly recommending that the University applies for funding to renovate Southampton Hall. But, Stony Brook never applied for any funding that could be used for the Southampton Campus.
“So if nobody’s in charge and you don’t have a plan, and you’re not even willing to apply for grant money for something that you’ve already committed to on the campus, that tells me you don’t care,” Thiele said.
However, McInnis said that the reason the school did not apply to renovate Southampton Hall is because she was told they were not eligible.
“The funding that Assemblyman Thiele thinks we could have applied for was not appropriate for capital buildings, capital construction, that nature. So yes, we didn’t apply for it because we have been told there was not a match between the needs of that building,” she said.
In response to McInnis’ statement, Thiele sent an email to The Statesman stating that “the President is simply wrong.”
He said that renovating Southampton Hall did not fall under any of the categories of ineligible projects.
“The Southampton project may or may not have received funding, but we will never know because SBU chose not to apply, even though it had the support of the state senator and assembly member representing the campus,” he said.
In a statement to The Statesman, University officials said that they chose to apply for funding to build a new Quantum Internet Test Bed on the main campus in Stony Brook.
“The quantum testbed is a transformative project that we expect to create dozens of jobs and spur significant economic activity across the region,” the statement said.
The University received $6.5 million from the LIIF to build the testbed, an amount behind what smaller colleges with less research output had received from the same program.
Farmingdale State College received $30 million from the LIIF to build a Center for Computer Science and Information Technology, while Long Island University received $10 million to build a new facility for its College of Science.
Thiele also said that Stony Brook could have applied for federal funding for the Southampton campus as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Congressionally Directed Spending Requests process, but they failed to do so.
“They simply have shown no interest in meeting their responsibility to the Southampton campus and the greater East End community,” Thiele said. “Large portions of the campus continue to decay while McInnis fiddles.”
Thiele has his own ideas for the campus. He thinks the buildings can offer an affordable housing opportunity for graduate students and employees of Stony Brook or the coming hospital.
Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, located in the Village of Southampton, was supposed to be moved onto 15 acres of Southampton’s campus by 2022. But this was delayed until 2025 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an article published by 27east.com.
“The hospital employs over 1,200 people, and there’s over 200 [job] vacancies,” Thiele said. “And of the people that work at the hospital most of them can’t afford to live on the East End. They have to commute long distances, and it’s been a real problem for the hospital to be able to recruit employees.”
Thiele said that restoring these buildings would not only improve the appearance of the campus but address the dire housing needs of students and employees.
In a press conference with student media, McInnis said that while Stony Brook is committed to Southampton’s campus, renovating those buildings is not a priority right now.
McInnis said that the problem lies in deferred maintenance, which is the backlog of infrastructure repairs often delayed due to lack of funding. She said this is because virtually every building on both campuses is reaching its end of life at the same time.
“We have $2 billion in what is referred to as deferred maintenance on our campus buildings and we do not control any of that funding,” she said. “This is another place where this state supplies the funding for buildings.”
McInnis said that Stony Brook has more deferred maintenance than any other SUNY school by threefold, with Buffalo as the next highest school with $600 million.
“We just don’t have the funding right now to be fixing all of the needs that we have on this campus and on Southampton, so we always have to prioritize,” she said. “We have a number of buildings that are on the queue to get renovated, and I have to say that the buildings at Southampton aren’t yet on that list.”