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Shirley Strum Kenny
Shirley Strum Kenny, President

State of the University Address
Presented in Fall 2005
Shirley Strum Kenny, President

You have all heard about the tipping point; now we have reached it. We have achieved our original bold aspirations, and we have done it in just 49 years. It’s time to celebrate the past—and embrace the future. Because now we are setting out on our new—and even bolder—set of goals. Given our trajectory thus far, that future will be glorious.

First, the past. In 1965, eight years after the new State University College on Long Island opened at Planting Fields and three years after it moved to Stony Brook and changed its name, an article published in Science was headlined, “Stony Brook: Young and Ambitious New York Institution is Beginning to Stir Notice in Academic World.”

The article spoke of a “puzzling” aspect in the “manhunting activity known as faculty and administrative recruiting”—some of the most sought-after talent was going to “a virtual unknown of the academic scene,” the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Stony Brook had a total enrollment of 1,789, had lacked a president for more than three years, had only a limited number of graduate   programs, but already had a fair sprinkling of academic luminaries among its 209 faculty members. Now Stony Brook had “pried” away—that was the term used—John S. Toll from the University of Maryland to be president, and he had lured H. Bentley Glass from Johns Hopkins to be academic vice president. C.N. Yang, the Nobel laureate in physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, was at Stony Brook as a three-month visiting professor; it was rumored he was a possibility for the Einstein professorship, which carried $100,000 a year and very few restrictions on how it could be spent between salary and other items. Incidentally, that $100,000 chair should be measured against the president’s compensation of $30,000 plus a house, and the vice president’s $27,000 salary. Ward Melville had contributed 480 acres (it is true; it was not the entire 1,039-acre campus we have now). It was rumored that Stony Brook might be adding as many as 100 faculty a year for the next four or five years, half of them at the tenure level. “Inevitably,” the article continued, “it soon began to be asked on campuses and at professional meetings, what is Stony Brook?”

Some other aspects of those early days are not as well known. For example, humanists then detected a tendency to bend over backwards to make certain the humanities were not shortchanged. President Toll felt strongly that the intellectual care and feeding of undergraduates was to be a prime concern. “The University,” he said, “should be oriented toward undergraduates. This is good for the undergraduates, and it is good for the graduate programs and research.” He looked toward preventing students “from feeling lost in the University,” and encouraged “activities outside of class that will give the student a sense of a relationship with the University. I’d like to see faculty members residing in the dormitories, and I’d like to have lectures in the dorms. Above all, I want the students to feel that they are somebody at the University.”

That article in Science appeared 40 years ago. It is amazing that now, even though we, as an institution, have selective memories about that era—remembering the great appointments and the relatively generous investment of the State, but forgetting the vision of deeply involved undergraduates in the early years (what I hear about most is mud and the drug raids)—we have realized that original vision. It has taken a little mental readjustment to recognize that we have reached it, and now it is time to build from that great past to an original and worthy vision for the future.

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It’s time to celebrate the past—and embrace the future. Because now we are setting out on our new—and even bolder—set of goals.