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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Fred Walter: A Seat on The Senate and His Eyes on the Stars

The subtle electrical hum radiating from the florescent ceiling lights is distinct from the moment one emerges from the stairwell and onto the fourth floor of the Earth Space and Science Building. The cinder block hallway is bare with the exception of a coat of cracking off-white paint. The only hint of human life comes from the scuff marks on the tile floor and a lone opened door leading to the office of astronomy professor Frederick Walter, Ph. D.
Upon first glance, the dimly lit room carries more than just a hint of organized chaos as near toppling stacks of files have been erected on the radiator and filing cabinets, astronomy posters are tacked lopsided to filled bookshelves and Walter sits at a desk with a barely discernible surface covered in a layer of papers and binders. He focuses intently on his laptop and the only sound that threatens to distract him is that of his own typing.
It is the type of office that many would expect to see their brilliant and slightly scatter-brained professors but despite the lack of flashing neon signs or even plaques of distinction that would lead anyone to believe differently, Walter is more than just an educator. After years of encouragement from his peers, on Oct. 13th Walter ran unopposed for the Stony Brook University Senate, the chief body of government on campus that encompasses students, staff and faculty.
“It’s been completely overwhelming,” Walter said  when asked about how the new position has fit into his already busy schedule. Laughing, he also admitted that with twelve years of experience on the Senate, an organization that deals primarily with academic programs on campus, he expected the new obligations and pressures that the position would bring.
Despite the new found yet anticipated responsibilities, Walter is happy to help make a positive difference on campus.
“I just don’t like sitting in the back and doing nothing,” he said as he leaned forward in his seat. He explained his decision to originally join the Senate and eventually take on the role of president after years of encouragement from his fellow Senate members.
“Service is a big part of our responsibility here [on campus] and the Senate is one way to do that,” Walter said. But the father of two and avid runner also made it clear that his priorities often take shape in other places, “I often tell the Senate members this is my third or fourth job, it’s important, but it’s not my first priority,” he said as he cleaned his glasses with his sleeve.
For Walter, research and students take priority.  In addition to acting as the president of the Senate, Walter is currently teaching two courses, researching Novae Stars and makes time to host recreational astronomy nights twice a month in which students can use the telescopes on the roof of the Earth and Space Science Building.
With a full schedule, Walter said that “the sheer amount of meetings” has been the biggest inconvenience that came with his new position.
“They haven’t gotten in the way of classes yet, I like to keep meetings as short as possible, but they do get in the way of my research and when I can meet with students,” the MIT graduate said.
George O’Neal, a 24-year-old physics major currently taking Walter’s Stars and Radiation course, has no complaints about his professor and says that if Walter’s new position interferes with his ability to meet with students on an individual basis, he hasn’t noticed.
“His office hours really haven’t changed since the semester started; he’s doing a really good job considering what we have to learn. The topic is really difficult.” O’Neal went on to call Walter “challenging but considerate.”
The Senate does not rank first on Walter’s list of priorities, yet those who work with him in the organization only have positive things to say about the time and commitment he dedicates.
“There is constantly work and issues coming up and I think he has really hit the ground running. He is still adjusting to the new position but overall a great job,” said Undergraduate Student Government President Matthew Graham, who works closely with the Senate.
Graham also said in a phone interview that Walter’s is dedicated to his new position and he has been “great to work with so far.”
Eduardo Mendieta, a philosophy professor who has worked with the Stony Brook University Senate for nearly a decade and sits on it’s executive board with Walter as the President of the Arts and Sciences Senate, wrote in an e-mail, “I am extremely impressed by Fred’s commitment to work on behalf of the faculty and the academic and scholarly well being of the university, even as he also has to attend to his teaching and research.”
According to Mendieta’s e-mail, both the University Senate and the Arts and Sciences Senate, though not well known among students, have currently been working closely together on a plethora of different issues. The two organizations have currently worked on a survey to evaluate the support on campus, worked closely on the “Southampton Affair” and work closely to evaluate how the Senate should be responding to certain aspects of Project 50 Forward.
In a follow up interview Walter explained the Senate as an aid to the university’s administration as many committees work closely with individual vice presidents at Stony Brook University. The newest challenge for the Senate is working to evaluate what the newest budget cut of $5 million facing the University will effect. With a grin, he admitted that he was not looking forward to it but hoped that the Senate would get to play a role anyway.
Walter has a nonchalant attitude towards the Senate and he jokes about how Stony Brook has more government than the State of New York and with his full schedule, Walter has headed an organization that quietly deals with many issues that affect the day-to-day aspects of campus life for students, faculty and staff members.
“The work we do on the Senate gives up the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t and then we get to report our findings back to the administration,” Walter said as he let a small smile escape from behind his salt-and-pepper beard.

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