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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


College of Arts and Sciences cuts undergraduate pharmacology program

Acceptance into the undergraduate program in pharmacology has been suspended effective immediately. The professors that taught courses in the program have been reassigned to different departments. MANJU SHIVACHARAN/STATESMAN FILE

Acceptance into the undergraduate program in pharmacology has been suspended indefinitely, due to a programmatic decision from the College of Arts and Sciences, Michael Frohman, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, said.

Faculty learned that the program was in jeopardy several months ago. Meanwhile, students were kept in the dark as the department negotiated a plan to try and save the major by using external funding. Students weren’t made aware until Jan. 30 when they received an email notifying them that the decision had been finalized.

“A donor was found who was willing to address the financial needs as initially described by [the College of Arts and Sciences] but this did not change the decision of [ the College] to end the major on a programmatic basis,” Frohman wrote in an email to The Statesman.

The details around why the College rejected this funding still remain unclear.

After making repeated attempts to contact Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sacha Kopp for clarification, The Statesman was redirected to Media Relations Manager for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Gregory Filiano without explanation.

Filiano provided the following statement via email: “After careful and strategic consideration, campus leadership determined the proposed solution to privately fund the program was not practical or sustainable.”

Although the College  has halted funding for the program, the vast majority of instructors are employed by the School of Medicine, not the College.

“We can’t be directed [by the College] not to teach pharmacology,” Frohman explained, adding that they would continue to provide the required courses until everyone in the program graduates.

The one faculty member who was employed by the College of Arts and Sciences, Robert Watson, has since been reassigned to the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior.

Watson was responsible for teaching the two lab courses —  BCP 403: Principles of Pharmacology Laboratory and BCP 404: Advanced Pharmacology Laboratory.

“The lab was taught at a high level, and where possible I brought real-world experiments into the classroom,” Watson stated via email. “Beyond just learning lab techniques, students were encouraged to think critically and creatively about the experiments they were performing.”

Watson’s departure, coupled with insufficient funding, has forced the department to make drastic changes to the labs so they can continue to offer them.

“You’ll still be able to get through 403 and 404, they’ll just be different in character than what you thought you were getting into,” Professor and Vice-Chairman of the department Paul Fisher said. “It will be writing papers, and in some cases be reading and doing independent study but it will still be called 403 and 404.”

Students will also have the option to take an equivalent lab in a different subject with permission from the department.

“This is the worst possible thing that could happen to the program because now we don’t have hands on lab coursework that could be applicable to finding a job right after graduation,” junior pharmacology major Irena Pigulevskiy said. “That just completely devalues our degree because that’s such an essential component of it.”

Pigulevskiy has chosen to continue pursuing a degree in pharmacology. But the cuts have provoked some students to change paths entirely. Take sophomore pharmacology and European studies major, Mark Falko, for example.

“For me, this is something that I don’t feel comfortable with. Graduating with a major that is no longer a major,” he said.

Falko came to Stony Brook specifically for the undergraduate pharmacology major, since it was one of only three universities in the U.S. that offered it. Around the same time he learned that pharmacology was in trouble, Falko overheard news that the European studies program was also at risk of losing funding.

“What do I do now, with no majors left?” he asked.

Now, after taking out $20,000 in student loans to attend Stony Brook, Falko said his goal is to pursue a degree in interdisciplinary studies and try to graduate as soon as possible. “I definitely would not have come to Stony Brook if I knew this would be the case.”

At a Feb. 1 informational meeting for all pharmacology majors, some students raised the idea of starting a petition to try and reverse the Collge’s decision. However, Frohman warned that protest was unlikely to result in any meaningful change.

“At the end of the day writing petitions isn’t going to help,” he said. “The dean, the provost and the president don’t argue with the fact that this is a fantastic program.”

He urged students to try and empathize with those in the administration, noting that many of the decisions being made were likely the result of budget cuts coming from the state level. “At the end of the day, they have to make hard decisions without having a precedent. No matter what, sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy.”

Setting the reasoning behind the cuts aside, Pigulevskiy said what upset her the most was the lack of transparency from the administration throughout the decision-making process.

Students were notified well after the major/minor declaration deadline and just days before the end of the add/drop date for enrollment, which Pigulevskiy said made things difficult for anyone trying to replan their schedules in accordance with the oncoming changes.

“When I heard it, it sort of seemed like my world was falling apart because everything that I had envisioned, that I had already meticulously planned for seemed like it could just be going to waste and that I’d have to reconsider everything,” she said.

While she has tried to maintain a positive outlook, Pigulevskiy said the fact that the College turned down an opportunity to fund the program is discouraging.

“It just goes to show that the school doesn’t care about its students,” she said. “I really fell in love with this field of study and I felt like it was extremely unfair to just have the rug pulled out from under me at such a late point in my academic career.”

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    Gregory FilianoFeb 28, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    For reader awareness, this is the full statement that was provided to the reporter:

    As you know, every unit within the University is being asked to review all departmental spending in the face of the budget challenges. This is a continuing process. As a result, colleges and schools are developing strategic pathways that will build upon the distinctive strengths and qualities of each respective School or College and ensure a stronger foundation as we move forward. This has led to decisions to suspend some programs and to reinforce others, and the decisions are driven in part by student enrollment, scholarship, cost and overall programmatic strength.

    Suspending admission does not affect students currently enrolled in these programs; they will be able to continue pursuit of this major; in other words, the students who declared their interest in the Pharmacology major on or before May 1, 2017 will have the opportunity to complete that major. Academic advisors will work with all students enrolled in Pharmacology to help them on their path toward academic success, and the Office of Advising is working with the Chairman of Pharmacology to construct a course sequence each year, ensuring that proper courses are available to keep students on track to complete their degrees. These courses will be available to other students if seats are available.

    It might be helpful for you to have the contents of a message that the Chair of Pharmacology, Michael Frohman, sent to current students on February 1, 2018:
    Dear Students (From Michael Frohman, Chair of Pharmacology),

    Several of you have contacted our office about undergraduate Pharmacology. The Department of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine continues to offer pharmacology courses for current Pharmacology majors. Current students in the major can pursue coursework and are asked to communicate with Professor Michael Frohman, Chair of the Department of Pharmacology, as to the schedule of pharmacology courses for future semesters. The College of Arts and Sciences will continue to offer the full array of necessary biology, biochemistry, chemistry, mathematics, and physics courses for this and other majors.


    Michael Frohman

    With regard to your question about an alternate funding source, after careful and strategic consideration, campus leadership determined the proposed solution to privately fund the program was not practical or sustainable.