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    LaValle and Thiele: “A potential Southampton revival”

    One of the newer dormitory buildings on the Southampton campus, 2010. (Alessandra Malito / Statesman File Photo)

    In an effort to revive the Southampton campus, Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a press conference last week that he would like to create “an Aspen Institute-like program” on the East End campus.

    The program, currently named the Peconic Institute, is an initiative shared with Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) whose district encompasses Stony Brook Southampton. Thiele said the institute will focus on “research, educational programs and policy discussions to encourage a sustainable future for the Peconic Bay Region.” The region includes the towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold.

    Initial planning for the institute began in April, but Thiele hopes to put the proposal in motion by meeting with university officials within the next two months.

    James Montalto, Stony Brook’s media relations manager, said in an email that LaValle’s office has requested a meeting space and the university is working to accommodate him. He declined to comment on any university involvement or interest in the project, saying “The University has no further information to provide on this topic.”

    “My sense is that the campus at Southampton will grow,” LaValle said. “And as it grows and we can demonstrate that it is fiscally prudent to run certain programs, then you will see a lot more happening in this area.”

    This proposal comes on the heels of Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr.’s decision to move most of Southampton’s classes to the main campus and to shut down its dormitories, cafeteria and many classrooms.

    The planned closure was leaked last year and led to a lawsuit between the University and displaced students who claimed the decision was illegal because officials did not involve the public. The suit was settled in August, with State Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Baisley, Jr. ordering the university to maintain two Southampton educational programs and Stanley to apologize to the displaced students.

    LaValle said these concessions were not enough.

    “We think there are great resources on the East End,” LaValle said. “We have a marine sciences program, and we should build other disciplines out there so that we’re dealing with environmental issues.”

    According to a document outlining the initial institute plans, it would use a portion of the Southampton campus as a laboratory for research and discussion of issues such as sustainable agriculture, public transportation, affordable housing, fishery management, climate change and alternative energy. It would also utilize the Stony Brook University class structure to offer courses and seminars in these sustainability issues.

    The current plan has funding derived from foundations, government grants, programs fees and donations.

    LaValle said he hopes to have the Peconic Institute running as part of Stony Brook University, but admitted that the university’s record in dealing with Southampton has been less than reassuring.

    “If the university is saying ‘We really don’t want that campus,’ and if that kind of behavior continues, then I’m for setting up a free-standing program,” LaValle said. “But I think all the effort should be made to keep that as part of this university.”

    Montalto said Stony Brook is interested in developing “revenue neutral” programs at Southampton – programs that take in as much money as the university puts out to run them.

    “The Provost’s office will continue to look at all opportunities that fall within the university’s mission of research, education and discovery,” Montalto said.

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