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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Then and Now: 20 Years at Stony Brook

    This year’s State of the University Address had a far brighter tone, replete with one-liners and school pride, than the speech given in 2001 shortly after Sept. 11. President Shirley Strum Kenny warmly welcomed the crowd, comprised of faculty, administrators, and the occasional student, to the Staller Center last Thursday afternoon after a 10-minute video presentation put together by Deanne Zimmerman (who is this?).

    The video images told an abridged story of the past year at Stony Brook University, revisiting many of the major campus happenings and achievements. Kenny told the tale more fully in her annual Address, speaking frankly about the strengths and weaknesses of the institution as Power Point facts and figures blinked on the screen behind her.

    2002 marks the 40th anniversary of the university’s relocation to Stony Brook from Oyster Bay, and the phrase of the day was “We have come a long way in 40 years,” appearing as the header on many of the charts and graphs analyzing SBU’s demographics, finances, and progress in an array of areas.

    Before diving into an examination of long-term progress however, Kenny spoke about the gains made in the time of her own presidency, particularly in the area of undergraduate education.

    “Since 1994 Stony Brook has revolutionized its treatment of undergraduates,” Kenny said. The president has taken a notable interest in enhancing the undergraduate program ever since the Middle States Visiting Committee rated it “sub-par” in 1994. The Boyer Commission, chaired by Ernie Boyer until his sudden death and then placed under the watch of Kenny herself, worked to construct a paradigm for reviving and bettering undergraduate education at universities with stellar research records but less glossy achievements in B.A. programs.

    “The Boyer Report has had an amazing impact on undergraduate education nationwide,” Kenny said. “Now universities brag about what they are doing for undergraduates not just in recruitment brochures but among their peers.”

    The campus has seen numerous recent improvements designed specifically for the undergraduate population. All of the residence halls have been rehabilitated, although some have certainly received more attention than others. Recently completed projects like the undergraduate apartment complex, SAC Phase II, and the new stadium have impacted the undergraduate community in a positive way, Kenny said.

    Landscaping initiatives have accompanied the explosion of campus construction, diverting the eye not only from Dumpsters and chain-link fencing, but from what Kenny referred to sarcastically as the “graceful architecture” of many buildings on campus.

    “We have at least begun to create a campus whose spaces respect the faculty, the staff, and students and the pursuit of learning,” Kenny said. “Of course far more important is the quality of the undergraduate academic experience, and there we can be very proud, even as we know we have a long way to go.”

    The addition of Richard Leakey, renowned anthropologist, and the Emerson String Quartet to the faculty fortifies two of the strongest graduate programs. But progress in some of SBU’s less recognized fields has also been made, such as the development of a department of Asian and Asian-American Studies. The implementation of residential colleges, being piloted this year with the Undergraduate College of Information and Technology Studies, is a step in the right direction as well, according to Kenny.

    Financial difficulties frustrate administrative attempts to accomplish the Boyer recommendations. After Sept. 11, the state allocation to the university declined precipitously, and more budget cuts are likely, Kenny said. She made it clear, however, that she believes there are ways to overcome limited resources.

    “I think we cannot use financial constraints as an excuse–we have to find innovative ways’#133;to make things happen,” she said. “The best private institutions have more financial ability’#133;but expenditures do not equal excellence; ingenuity and determination count.”

    [Some of Kenny’s discussion of undergraduate improvement was met with chuckling and snickering from the crowd, which was largely comprised of researchers.]

    The statistical portion of the Convocation presented myriad aspects of the student population, academic offerings and plenty of figures preceded by dollar signs. The change in ethnic composition over the past 40 years has been significant. 98% of the student population was Caucasian.

    The undergraduate student body this year is far more diverse, with a quarter self-identifying as Asian, a tenth as African-American, and 8% as Hispanic. The numbers of non-Caucasians on campus are likely higher, but one-fifth of matriculated students did not identify their ethnicity.

    In 1962 SBU offered 20 majors, the top three of which were math, biology, and engineering. Today 70 majors are available with 1,195 courses to choose from, and the most popular majors are psychology, computer science, and business.

    Kenny outlined the various components of the university budget, highlighting the fact that the state allocation for this year is about 90 times the size of the1962 allocation to Stony Brook, although the increase reflects inflation as well and has not kept up with enrollment increases.

    “A history of state support, excluding fringes, reveals that in the past 15 years, we have lost considerable ground,” Kenny said.

    The fiscal news is not all bad, however. Revenue from royalties has poured in from production of the drug ReoPro, although this money can only be used for research support. Undergraduate students have been the recipients of the increased scholarship funding the university has witnessed over the past several years.

    “As I said in my inaugural address, this may not be the best of times, but it is our time, and our place,” Kenny said. “We will continue to make it the best it can be.”

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