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Presidential Search Committee outlines expectations for incoming president

The emailed letter from Kevin S. Law, chair of the Presidental Search Committee, sent out in campus-wide email on Wednesday, Oct. 23. The email was an announcement that the committee has outlined expectations for Stony Brook University’s next president in a position profile. PHOTO CREDIT: STONY’S BROOK PRESIDENT’S OFFICE

The Presidential Search Committee outlined “key qualities” and expectations for Stony Brook University’s next president in a position profile, linked in a campus-wide email sent out on Wednesday, Oct 23.

Stony Brook is at a “critical” time in its history and the incoming president will have a “profound impact” on the future of the university going forward, according to the profile.

“In its next President, Stony Brook University seeks a demonstrated visionary and strategic leader with administrative experience and with a thorough understanding of and an uncompromising commitment to academic distinction,” the profile read.

The 17-page document emphasized that the next president should have a “proven track record of incorporating shared governance and collaboration with faculty, students, and staff,” and possess “the interpersonal skills necessary to manage strategic change and lead a broad academic mission.”

“We’re looking for a president who demonstrates commitment to both undergraduate and graduate students’ academic success and the high quality of education, as well as continues to improve the life quality and work experience of graduate student employees,” Xiaoqing Zhang, a fourth year PhD candidate in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and a member of the Presidential Search Committee, said in an email.

Graduate students protested fee increases last semester, which went up $90.25 per semester for graduate students starting this fall. Protesters argued that the nearly $1,600 graduate students pay in fees per year are not sustainable, especially since their average annual salaries are below the cost of living in Suffolk County.

The profile went on to emphasize that it is “vitally important” the incoming president views the university “as an intellectual whole.” The school’s primary objective should not be to evaluate programs based on “a budgetary sense,” but to provide an “excellent and well-rounded liberal arts education coupled with excellence in research and scholarship,” the profile read.

Many programs saw cuts or were shut down in recent years, as the university tried to rein in a multimillion dollar budget deficit. The humanities suffered in particular — for instance, the Department of Theatre Arts suspended admissions, and several adjunct professors in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric did not have their contracts renewed. Three other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences merged, resulting in the dismissal of several lecturers.

Though Interim President Michael Bernstein announced this semester that the university budget is balanced for the upcoming year, the presidential profile lists experience with university finances and budgeting as a must for the incoming president.

“While Stony Brook has taken steps to rein in costs and operate more efficiently, it has been less active in discovering new sources of funding and must undertake serious efforts to identify future recurring resources, including ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas, to allow the institution to continue to enhance excellence in all aspects of the University’s mission,” the profile read. 

It added that the president should, transparently, involve the Stony Brook community and other stakeholders “in discussions and actions on moving the University forward on its upward trajectory.”

Beyond just managing the budget, the incoming president will be expected to “plan and then execute a major campaign” on a similar level to the “Campaign for Stony Brook” fundraiser, which ran for seven years and raised $630.7 million, exceeding its goal of $600 million by 5%.

Even as the university worked to balance its deficit these past few years, however, it saw total spending on research and development activities rise from $238 million in 2017 to $245 million in 2018, according to Bernstein’s university address on Oct. 19. Sponsored research in particular soared to new heights, with a record of nearly $192 million in 2018 — that number has not been beaten so far in 2019, at $180.6 million.

The profile pointed out Stony Brook’s partnerships with Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the university’s proximity to New York City — which is about 50 miles away, or approximately two hours by train. It speculated that the university could “become one of the preeminent research institutions in the U.S. and, indeed, the world.”

Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Nicole Sampson — who is on the Presidential Search Committee — emphasized via email that the incoming president should “understand the opportunities and challenges for a public research university in a rapidly changing global society and economy.”

Sampson added that she expects the next president to collaborate with “diverse constituencies internal and external to the University to bring his/her vision to reality.”

The incoming president should also, according to the profile, “support the development of a strong clinically integrated network of health care institutions and continued growth in the footprint of where Stony Brook Medicine services are offered.”

Stony Brook Medicine has been rapidly expanding in recent years, stretching out to the east end of the island. The university acquired Southampton Hospital in 2018, according to the profile, which came with 125 beds and several specialized treatment centers, including 32 satellite care centers throughout Long Island’s South Fork. Earlier this year, the university also acquired Eastern Long Island Hospital, which comes with 90 beds and more than 20,000 annual clinic visits, the profile stated.

“There is ongoing discussion about further acquisitions which must be balanced by the need to maintain the quality of existing programs,” it read.

Closer to campus, a new Medical and Research Translation building dedicated to cancer care and research, in addition to imaging and neurosciences, was constructed. A children’s hospital was also built. Both are expected to open in November.

A screenshot from the profile of the qualifications the Presidential Search Committee is looking for in candidates seeking the presidential position.

Before launching into an appendix describing the university, the profile laid out a bulleted list of qualifications the Presidential Search Committee is looking for in candidates, which were discussed in a meeting at the end of September with SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, and with search consultants from recruitment firm Isaacson, Miller.

Ads for the position are being run in various publications, including the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Diverse Jobs in Higher Education.

Samantha Robinson contributed reporting.

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    Charlie AccettaOct 25, 2019 at 7:41 am

    Nice wish list, although it doesn’t seem prudent to make University-wide planning a prerequisite to a hire when the hire is expected to lead in that process. When sports teams hire executives, their success is projected by what they can accomplish once in place, rather than meeting a list of predetermined expectations. This document is the quintessential recipe for disaster. Make it about personal qualities, rather than previous accomplishments, and you will have a much broader pallet from which to make a suitable choice.