Sick of Albany cutting your funding? Be prepared to get on the bus!

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Darren Johnson
Publisher. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Big buses ambled onto campus at 4:30 a.m. Their lights cutting through an aura of fog. The big machines idled, a soft roar floating over the rolling hills of the bucolic 82-acre campus, toward the dorms. The engines waited, calling.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Then over the hills came a few students. Then a few more. Altogether 70 of them got up to make the trek from the East End of Long Island to Albany for Advocacy Day on April 27.
A couple of weeks prior, these students at SUNY’s newest campus, Stony Brook Southampton, were told — via a story leaked to Newsday — that their campus was going to be essentially shut down by its huge parent university, Stony Brook, and they decided they weren’t going to take it.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They quickly mobilized. And how they did it could be a lesson for your public college as the state budget crisis and the governor’s attack on education continues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One of the buses was sponsored by the United University Professions, the union that represents faculty and mid-level administration (the latter of which I am a member, though for how much longer is uncertain. The ultimate deadline for shutting down most of the campus is August 31). The other bus was paid for by the students, through their activity fees and voted upon by the campus Board of Finance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The students also got media savvy — and quick. Southampton is a school devoted to ecological sustainability. On the Atlantic and in an area where the rich and famous live, it’s also a home to marine science and writing programs. With 500 students with specialities in advocacy and communications, it’s no wonder they were able to get so much press so fast. A Facebook page they created hit 20,000 fans in two weeks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Stony Brook Southampton is only in its third year of existence, thus the small student body so far, but these students managed to get themselves everywhere seemingly. They held a march and sit-in at the main campus. They descended on a feel-good speech by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher at Old Westbury and demanded answers — stealing any good press she would have gotten from the event that day.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And in Albany, they networked with key legislators with the help of the union. Seven students there seemed like 7000 in the quiet halls where the assemblymen and senators work. (I really think a school under fire like Southampton (your school could be next) could make an impression sending just 20 students. Just use sports team vans for the ride. Advocacy days are every Tuesday when the legislature is in session. Call your union’s Albany branch to help out or make the appointments yourself by calling the 518 numbers listed for your area reps.)
The Southampton students not only met Long Island assemblypeople like Fred Thiele (a third-party member and Southampton alum from when the campus was owned by LIU and a huge backer of the campus), Dean Murray (R) and Ginny Fields (D), but also legendary higher education bigwigs including Senator Ken LaValle (R) and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D). LaValle used to chair the higher ed committee in the Senate, and probably will again, soon, as the GOP is expected to take back power there this fall, and Glick heads the assembly’s higher ed committee. She also is a friend of former Stony Brook President Shirley Strum Kenny, who founded and nurtured the Southampton campus.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And it seems the advocacy is working. Not only are the newspapers on the students’ side, as well as the Southampton community (the local town board offered to pony up money to try to convince SUNY to change its mind), but the legislators now are questioning the closure, as well.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
As of press time, Stony Brook’s President, Sam Stanley, and Zimpher finally agreed to meet with Thiele and LaValle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
While it may be too late for the current Southampton students — most of them, grudgingly, have already filed paperwork to transfer to the main Stony Brook campus 40 miles away for the fall — their work at the very least taught them a lesson in advocacy that can’t be taught in the classroom (and they did skip class that day; but most professors didn’t hold that against them).. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Also important, it taught SUNY a lesson. They will be more sensitive as to how they treat a campus in the future when it comes to handling budget cuts. The Southampton students are mad because they were never consulted; never made part of the decision-making process.
Top administrators don’t want a PR nightmare like this to happen again. What the Southampton kids did, and are still doing, may keep SUNY off your campus’s back. You should thank them.

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