Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis held a press conference with members of various campus media organizations on Feb. 27 to answer questions regarding the state of the University.
McInnis addressed the proposed 30% State University of New York (SUNY) tuition increase, parking changes, the CulinArt investigation, racist incidents on campus and other issues. The Statesman, The Stony Brook Press, Black World and The Stony Brook Media Group were in attendance.
Vacancies in faculty and staff
Based on their contract, it is mandated that faculty and staff salaries increase every year by a total of $10 million. There are over 400 vacancies between faculty and staff, which is how the school has been able to afford to adhere to the contract.
“You always have faculty leaving and you have staff leaving,” McInnis said. “There are a large number of them we just can’t fill.”
These vacancies take away opportunities from students, including class availability, advisors, mental health counselors and student support services. With these areas lacking in manpower, and possibly losing more people going forward, it will make it more difficult for students to graduate in four years.
Because of this, the tuition increase was proposed for the coming years.
Back in February, Governor Kathy Hochul put forth a proposal that will allow New York’s research university centers, including Stony Brook, to hike tuition for in-state students by 30% over the next five years.
“Over the last 12 years, there have only been modest tuition increases,” McInnis said. “It means that we have had to pay for inflationary costs, the most significant of which are the contracted salary increases that are negotiated by the state and mandatory that we pay.”
The University is down almost 100 faculty and 300 staff members, which is why Hochul put forth a tuition plan that would provide steady increases over five years.
“You all are starting to feel that. That is really starting to have an impact on your experience,” McInnis said.
Funds offered by the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Excelsior Scholarship Program will rise if tuition goes up, so those students still would not have to pay tuition — increased costs would be covered. Pell Grant financial aid from Stony Brook will go up as well.
The plan is to hire more faculty and staff. The State Assembly and the Senate will create budgets in response to Hochul’s plan, and then the final state budget will be negotiated amongst the governor, the Assembly and the Senate.
The increase still leaves Stony Brook thousands of dollars cheaper than in-state tuition of surrounding states, McInnis said.
On Feb. 10, Mobility & Parking Services (MAPS) sent an email to the Stony Brook community that introduced a fully-paid parking model at Stony Brook. This is proposed to begin in the fall of 2023.
“We recognize that the proposed changes will have an impact on our community,” a MAPS representative wrote in the email. “However, the reality is that our current parking model is insufficient to fund routine maintenance or customer service improvements for our parking operations.”
The only money that can be put into parking infrastructure is money that comes from parking. This includes fixing potholes and providing light in the parking lots “so that these are safe places.” This is a SUNY policy that McInnis was unable to provide more information on.
The Statesman asked if MAPS approached the SUNY union about the new policy, and she responded that there are ongoing conversations between MAPS and SUNY unions, along with MAPS and students.
McInnis brought up that Stony Brook is “out of step” with other SUNY universities in terms of how little Stony Brook charges for parking.
“We are, by a longshot, way behind what others are charging,” McInnis said. “And many employers charge for parking. This is a common thing.”
She also mentioned that rates have not been raised in 30 years.
“We get complaints every day. Potholes in the lots, garages that are, we’ll just say, literally crumbling in front of our eyes … The only way we can move all of that is to raise the rates that we are charging for parking,” McInnis said.
The Undergraduate Student Government met with McInnis to discuss the parking situation, and they proposed to create a student advisory group that will provide a bridge between students and MAPS.
The President’s administration has agreed to having the student advisory group, and the process has been put into motion to set that up for next year.
More details on the proposed plan can be found on the MAPS website.
Graduate student protests
In the summer of 2020, the minimum stipend for graduate student employees was $20,000. By next October, it will be $26,000. Graduate students have previously needed to pay $1,800 in fees, which has been removed since McInnis took office.
But graduate students are continuing to push for higher stipends, as the current salary leaves them below the poverty line.
McInnis pointed out that the changes may not be everything graduate students want, but she revisited the point about the “severe revenue challenges” the school has been facing.
“It is really a stretch for us to be doing what we’re doing,” McInnis said. “We will continue working with them, we will continue remaining focused on this. And we feel like we’ve made a lot of really significant progress in this most recent raise where it’s more than $3,000.”
Racist remarks on campus
In early February, a student accused her roommate of allegedly directing racist remarks toward her, and posted the accusations on Instagram. The post has since been deleted.
“It is enormously important to me that Stony Brook University is creating a welcoming, inclusive environment where students feel supported,” McInnis said when a reporter from Black World mentioned the incident. “Where we are listening to their concerns [and] we are responding to their concerns.”
She emphasized that it’s important that students utilize the official channels for reporting their concerns with related issues over social media.
In her opening comments of the press conference, McInnis brought up allegations of misappropriation of state funds by CulinArt that The Statesman shone light on back in February. The Statesman obtained financial documents and emails proving that CulinArt used funds from the University to pay employees working at other locations, misreported how much they were spending on dining hall food and more.
“I want you all to know that we too are very concerned and troubled by the allegations that have been brought forward,” McInnis said. “And we will do everything we can to support this investigation.”
Due to it being an ongoing investigation, McInnis declined to say anything else. The president’s press staff did not allow her to respond to questions about the investigation asked by The Statesman.
“An investigation is ongoing,” McInnis said. “And I will remain resolutely focused on making sure we have the right structures in place to make sure that we are providing the best possible dining experience.”
During the press conference, McInnis said that she found out about the CulinArt scandal close to the time The Statesman published its article about it.