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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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A Glance Into the Life of Stony Brook’s New President

Samuel Stanley doesn’t always stick to the plan.

He often discards pre-scripted speeches to better connect with his audience, doesn’t always have time to finish meals served in his honor and traded in the title of physician for president.

But if his performance in a recent pickup game of basketball is any indication – aggressive, no-nonsense, and when he did shoot from the three-point line he scored – he may be the right person behind the wheel to steer Stony Brook through a gale of budget cuts, faculty shortages, and campus community opposition.

Reaching Out

The placid waters of West Meadow Creek sparkle like cut glass catching the rays of an October sun as the area’s socialites sashay into the white Old Field Club. “We want to move it along when the president comes,” says Janette Handley, secretary for the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, to guests as they enter through double French doors. She cautions every visitor to just say their name and organization in the first round robin and leave the rest for after the president leaves.

This is the first time the president will meet with the chamber. According to Handley, 72 reservations were made for the luncheon. Usually there are just 15 placed in advance and the rest filter in unannounced.
“People are interested in meeting him, and the chamber wants to work him into the community,” says Handley while passing out flyers the same color as the pumpkins lining the slate steps. “Without the university, this area would be dead in the water.”

Stanley arrives fashionably late with Vice President of Facilities and Services Barbara Chernow, and enters the one-room ballroom filled with realtors, lawyers, bankers and Stony Brook staff, and tables dressed in antique white linens. “I don’t think I could even afford to be a member,” Stanley jokes of the club.

After exchanging pleasantries with members of the chamber, he strides over to the bar and orders a Diet Pepsi with a lime wedge, a favored drink of his. After just a few sips he is interrupted with a gift – a letter from the Three Village Inn lending support for the new campus hotel. The hotel receives several inquiries and questions are deferred to a separate meeting that may take place in the future.

During the lunch Stanley rises from his dais table seat, turns his back to the brilliant fall foliage, reflecting on the water, and addresses the crowd already on their feet. “This is my first standing ovation and it could be my last as far as I know,” the president jests.

He then discuses his campus’s highlights, meetings with legislatures and his vision for the future including the hotel, which raises a few eyebrows as well as questions such as if the campus grows into a self-contained city will students be less likely to travel off campus and feed the local economy. Stanley explains increasing campus bus trails off campus is an option – currently buses do run off campus to Smith Haven Mall.

Over the years the university has unsuccessfully tried to increase involvement on campus in the hopes of deterring the Friday afternoon exodus. “He really has to figure that out for himself,” Handley said.
Physician to President

Back on campus, the president strolls to his office in the Administration building with a photographer, reporter and aid in tow. Chatting about his life, the president explains that he didn’t always have administrator in mind as a career goal.

Born in Seattle, Stanley moved to Jakarta, Indonesia with his family at the age of 4 while his father Samuel Stanley Sr., 86, who holds a Ph.D in cultural anthropology, researched the structure of villages for two years. “I admire my dad,” Stanley said. “I grew up in a house where anthropology was the most important thing in the world.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago, Stanley traveled to Harvard Medical School where he received his medical degree.

During a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he met and married his wife, Dr. Ellen Li, who convinced him to return with her to Washington University in St. Louis. At Washington University Stanley became vice chancellor for research, a professor in the departments of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology for the School of Medicine and director for the Midwest Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

His appointment to university president came over time. While treating infectious disease in Gabon in Africa, Stanley would treat one patient with malaria only to have a new case pop up in a few days.

He decided to try and tackle the problem head on. “Research can make a global difference,” Stanley said.
Now, one of his main quests is to help increase research grant money to the university to help offset the $28 million budget shortfall.

Not Just Science

Graduate art students congregate in groups of three or four, exchanging sleepy hellos as the smell of coffee and eggs permeates the air inside the Staller Center lobby one Thursday morning. They are awaiting the opening of a new exhibit by Stephanie Dinkins entitled “This Land is My Land.”

The president walks in and many crowd members swivel their heads and stare with curious looks on their faces.

Stanley politely declines several offerings of coffee. An early riser, he already ate at 5:30 a.m. He inquires about the artwork of Mel Pekarsky, a retired professor, but because of understaffing, he is back from retirement as a visiting professor. A new show opening in November will feature 35 years of his work. “They’re cheap for presidents,” Pekarsky says, half-kidding. “I’ll give you a discount.”

The tall gallery doors open and Stanley slips unnoticed into the vast white space. He stares at over 1,000 pages of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” waxed and ironed together to create a canvas for a moving video of Dinkins, balancing above a canyon while resisting the wind. “I’ve been trying to get her to market it as a shower curtain, ” says Rhonda Cooper, the art gallery director, to Stanley as he leans in closer to the canvas.

Once again Stanley takes to the podium. Although his background lies in science, a contrast to former President Shirley Strum Kenny’s background in the humanities, he recognizes the need for both. “It’s about the way we interact and the way we add value to each other’s disciplines.”

One female graduate steps out from the crowd to poke at the impending budget cuts. “Is there any way our students can help each other?”

For now, that is a tough question to answer. On Oct. 15 Gov. David Paterson announced another statewide budget cut that would slash higher education by $62 million. “I don’t know how much of it will come to Stony Brook but it won’t be small,” Stanley says, his voice softer than usual.

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