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Shirley Strum Kenny
Shirley Strum Kenny, President

State of the University Address
Presented in Fall 2004
Shirley Strum Kenny, President

Welcome to our convocation. At these annual gatherings, preparing my report on the state of the University gives me a great opportunity to pause from the everyday intensities to evaluate where we are, and most importantly, think about next steps. During the past year, we as a campus had more than enough opportunities to do that between the Middle States, NCAA, and NCATE Accreditation. It was a lot for one year, but in a way it was nice to look at the academic, athletic, and teacher preparation aspects of University life during the same period. (It also will be nice not to have those accreditation efforts this year!) The conclusion of the Middle States team was that, “Stony Brook is an outstanding public research university.” Because this is the final year of our second Five Year Plan, it is now also time, armed with the knowledge of last year’s reports, to outline our goals for the next five years.

What I feel most of all this fall is a surging energy on campus; there is an air of excitement that is different from the past. There is so much going on — the new undergraduate colleges, new academic programs, new freshman seminars, the new residence halls. There is an invigorated sports program, new emphasis on weekend activities, and new places to enjoy life together, such as the new Hospital cafeteria, the coffeehouse in Kelly Quad, the University Café created by the graduate students, and Jasmine, the Asian food court in the Wang Center. Important things are happening all over campus. Those signs saying "Stony Brook is red hot!" — they're right!

Now I want to take time to look at the changes in the ten years from the last Middle States report to this one, those years covered by the two Five Year Plans, and then I want to give you my view of what comes next.

An easy starting point for me is my Inaugural Address a decade ago, in which I gave my vision for Stony Brook and, with reckless imprudence, promised results, some of which I had little or no control over. It is to my great relief that I can tell you we have met those rash goals, and I am off the hook.

Perhaps I am the only one who remembers, but in the fall of 1994, we had a $10 million debt and structural deficit; that is, we were spending more every year than we had. I committed to retire that debt and deficit in three years — and we did just that. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and not every corner of campus has subsequently been able to steer clear of a new structural deficit, so a corrective course is again necessary in some parts of campus. But the University has not sunk back into debt, and by and large, we are on much firmer footing than we were a decade ago.

I also said then that we would become a national model for undergraduate education at research universities. There was a reason for that goal — Middle States had flatly told us if we did not improve undergraduate education, we would not get accredited again. That strong incentive, combined with my own concern about national neglect of undergraduates, propelled me to approach Ernie Boyer at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to start a National Commission on the subject. When Ernie died, I took over leadership of what was to become known as the Boyer Commission in his memory, and we produced a report that jolted universities into reinventing undergraduate education — not only research universities, and not only American universities, but institutions around the world. Clearly, it was imperative for Stony Brook to be first among equals in responding to the Boyer Report.

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What I feel most of all this fall is a surging energy on campus; there is an air of excitement that is different from the past.