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Michael Bernstein

Pictured from left, Chris Graf, Michael Bernstein and Gloria Rocchio (holding original sketch of Memorial Rock) and Judy Greiman

In 1946 Ward Melville designated a plot of land on Main Street, right beyond the Stony Brook Village Center, to honor veterans of foreign wars.  

Michael Bernstein, Interim President, Stony Brook University; Judy Greiman, senior VP, government and community relations/chief deputy to the president at Stony Brook University; Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization; and Chris Graf, owner of Stonegate Landscape recently met at the site to review the results of recent efforts to refurbish the area in preparation for Veterans Day.

 The area has been renovated several times over the years and recently needed additional work.  Graf stepped up to take care of this project, gratis, installing another boulder and new plantings, updating the area to the state it was in when first created in 1946. WMHO, along with Stony Brook University, partnered together and paid for an additional plaque as well as a bluestone marker.

Photos from WMHO

*This article has been updated to reflect Michael Bernstein’s new title.

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Stony Brook University Interim President Michael Bernstein during the school’s State of the University address. Photo from Stony Brook University

Michael Bernstein, interim president of Stony Brook University, delivered his first State of the University address at the Staller Center for the Arts Main Stage to a packed auditorium filled with faculty, staff, students and elected officials Oct. 16.

During the speech, which lasted about an hour, Bernstein touched on several topics including important university initiatives, key strategic commitments, enrollment growth, Stony Brook Medicine’s future, financial woes and successes and challenges in the future.

A key theme of the presentation was highlighting the school’s rich history, including attracting trailblazing pioneers over the years and providing world-class education.

“We strive to always evolve to meet the needs of our students,” Bernstein said.

The interim president touched on the university’s efforts in diversity.

Bernstein said he is committed to improve diversity on campus and in the SBU community. The school in the past year has spent close to $1.7 million on diversity initiatives.

“We believe as scholars and educators that diversity generates optional results and better education that we can provide for our students,” the interim president said.

Similarly, Bernstein highlighted the university’s increase in admitted international students. He stressed the need to continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for them.

“We are an elite institution not an elitist institution — that is very much part of our DNA here at Stony Brook,” he said.

On the economic side of things, Bernstein touted that SBU continues to be a vital contributor to Long Island.

SBU is the largest single-site employer on Long Island with more than 15,000 employees and has continued to be an economic driver in the local economy generating more than $7.2 billion.

Bernstein highlighted the accomplishments of Stony Brook Medicine.

He mentioned the expansion of the Stony Brook Medicine umbrella with new partnerships in Southampton that include the MART building in November and the Children’s Hospital in the Hospital Pavilion, which had a ribbon-cutting ceremony today.

“[The hospital] will be the very best facility on Long island for pediatric care,” Bernstein said.

Reducing expenses and increasing revenue was an important topic brought up.

Bernstein said efforts have been made to streamline university operations and monitor hiring. Top budget priority areas for the 2019-20 school year are focused on student success, growth in research and faculty support. Construction on new buildings and residence halls are underway as well as plans to address parking problems on campus.

“We know we have to address those issues,” he said. “We will get to a better outcome downstream and we salute you for your patience.”

The interim president also made sure to highlight the university’s four-year graduation rate. The rate for the class entering in 2015 has reached 64 percent, which signifies a 17-point increase over a six-year period.

The community is asking SUNY for a chance to sit at the table in selecting a new president. File photo

With the departure of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. as Stony Brook University president July 31 and the appointment of Michael Bernstein as interim president, the school and the State University of New York have begun the process of finding a new permanent president. Elected officials and community groups have called on SUNY to include local representatives in the search committee and selection process.

Supervisor Ed Romaine during his State of the Town address. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Stony Brook University is one of the crown jewels of the SUNY system,” said Ed Romaine (R), Town of Brookhaven supervisor, in an Aug. 26 letter sent to Kristina Johnson, SUNY chancellor. 

Citing SBU as being ranked one of the top 35 public universities in the nation and a major health care provider for the community, Romaine described SBU as “an integral part of our community as an educational resource, employer and economic driver.”

“Because of this, I urge you to include at least two representatives from the community on your search committee for a new university president,” Romaine said.

The supervisor recommended eight different community groups that he felt had qualified individuals that could serve on the search committee.

“The president of the university is a huge part of the community. I believe the community should be invited to the search committee for the new president,” Romaine reiterated in an interview. “We have a lot of local issues, and there needs to be better communication between the university and the community.”

The Brookhaven supervisor brought up the issue of off-campus housing, particularly illegal rooming homes, which he acknowledged the school has worked with the town to crack down on landlords.

Romaine brought up traffic, especially the issues on Stony Brook, Oxhead and Nicolls roads.  

“I proposed to the county they consider making three lanes north and south from 347 to the university because that’s where it really jams up,” he said. “… The university is already working with us, but the best way to confirm that is to make sure the local community is represented.”

The Three Village Civic Association also sent Johnson a letter.

“We appreciate the many benefits of being the home community of a large world class university,” the association stated in the letter. “However, with those benefits come many challenges for our small community. We think it would be beneficial for the search committee to include a civic perspective that can help bridge the specific needs of the university with those of the surrounding community.”

“We have a lot of local issues, and there needs to be better communication between the university and the community.”

– Ed Romaine

University officials, said in a statement that SUNY board of trustees sets the procedure for the search and determines the mix of committee members. Members of the Stony Brook Council will be included who are also community members.

SUNY Guidelines for Conducting Presidential Searches require that the local college council, the Stony Brook Council, follow a prescribed process and submit names to the SUNY board for consideration.

The search committee would consist of four members of the local council, including the chair, seven members of the full-time teaching faculty of the campus, one undergraduate student, one graduate student, one alumni representative, two campus-related foundation representatives, one academic dean, one professional or support staff member, one incumbent or retired SUNY president from another campus or a member of the chancellor’s senior staff designated by the chancellor.

SBU said members are nominated by faculty, staff and students. The faculty then vote via a secret ballot on the seven faculty positions, and the rest of the positions are selected by the council chair from the list of nominees. 

Nominations for the committee took place over the summer, according to university officials. Voting on faculty representatives began on Aug. 26 and runs until Sept. 6. Once the faculty results are in, the council chair, Kevin Law, will finalize his selections and will convene the first search committee meeting. The first meeting will likely be in late September.

SUNY could not be reached for comment before press time.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Interim SBU President Michael Bernstein meet with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss energy effeciency improvements. Photo by David Luces

In an effort to fight climate change, Stony Brook University will receive $79 million in energy efficiency improvements and upgrades throughout the campus. 

New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was on hand at the school Aug. 19 to announce the planned upgrades in front of the university’s Center of Molecular Medicine. 

The improvements build upon the State University of New York’s Clean Energy Roadmap, a partnership between SUNY and state energy agencies that aims to accelerate progress toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. 

The energy efficient upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28,000 tons a year, which is the equivalent of taking over 5,000 cars off the road. It will also save the university nearly $6 million in energy and maintenance costs annually. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Interim President Michael Bernstein said. 

The improvements, which will be financed and implemented by the New York Power Authority, will include a number of energy-saving upgrades such as lighting, ventilation and building management upgrades at university buildings, including residence halls, science buildings and the hospital. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint.”

— Michael Bernstein

The planned upgrades continue the university’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint. NYPA and SUNY have already partnered to complete more than $50 million in energy efficiency improvements at Stony Brook. If all goes according to plan, expectations are for the removal of nearly 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

Some of those projects included interior and exterior LED lighting upgrades, replacement of older HVAC equipment, pipe insulation and lab HVAC modernization. 

PSEG Long Island provided more than $500,000 in rebates to Stony Brook University for projects underway. 

“We have a moral responsibility to protect this Earth while it is in our hands,” said Hochul. “Forty percent of buildings owned by the state of New York are on SUNY campuses … If we are going to make an impact this is where we start.” 

SUNY and NYPA, together, have completed energy-saving projects at more than 600 SUNY facilities, reducing energy consumption by more than 6.2 megawatts, removing more than 48,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, and saving $12.1 million annually, according to SUNY. The public college institution and power authority are currently partnering to implement energy-saving measures at more than 30 additional SUNY buildings. Once completed, they expect it will reduce SUNY’s energy consumption by an additional 1.6 megawatts.

A Q&A with Michael Bernstein

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

Michael Bernstein, the new interim president of Stony Brook University, came by TBR News Media’s office for an exclusive interview where he spoke on his new role, challenges the school faces and his thoughts on the future. Here is what he had to say. 

Is there any chance you will stay in this role permanently?

This past January, I talked through with [previous SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.] about concluding my tenure as provost [at the university]. 

My partner Patty and I have made plans to go to San Diego, where we’ve had a home for 20-plus years. It’s been a prime directive to get back to San Diego. 

Michael Bernstein. Photo from SBU

Things changed, when Sam announced he would be leaving, and he asked if I’d be willing to serve in the interim [president] role if the chancellor of SUNY, Kristina Johnson, asked me to do so. 

I remember at that meeting, I was like, “I need to talk to Patty and then I’ll talk to you again.”

Patty and I talked it through and here we are. I am delighted to be in this role. As for the longer-term future, we have open minds and will take it one day at a time. 

Let’s see if I like the job and more importantly let’s see if the job likes me and we’ll go from there. 

So you don’t see yourself as a placeholder?

No, I am the interim president. My goal, my hope and my intention is to do the job — that’s what the chancellor expects from me and I think that’s what all our colleagues on campus expect of me. I’m going to do my best.

It’s true when you are serving in an interim role, you have to balance the reality of the role with the tasks that have to be done. 

There are some things an interim president might not be able to do. Some lifts might be too heavy. I’m here to serve the campus the best I can. 

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

Challenges are also opportunities. We want to maintain the trajectory that Sam established in his decade-long tenure [as president]. 

Our student success metrics have been improving in the past 10 years. Graduation rates have gone up and we want to keep that momentum.

Right now, our six-year rate is at the high mid-60th percentile. Roughly 62, 63 percent of our students have their degrees in hand within six years of their initial matriculation. The goal is to get that number up into the 70th percentile and that’s doable. It will take work, resources and determination. 

The quality of our students keeps going up. We are doing a much better job in advising, tutoring, counseling and making sure they have a clear path to graduation. 

There’s still this general anxiety over whether or not the school focuses more on STEM than the humanities and arts. What do you think should be done in those terms?

I’m certainly aware of the sentiments. We do have outstanding departments and units in STEM base fields. That’s been true probably since the day the school opened. 

It is not something we would ever ignore or look past. I actually feel the sense that we are overlooking the arts and humanities is sometimes misconstrued. We have some excellent programs — political science is a nationally ranked program, our Hispanic language and literature program is one of the best in the field, our music department competes with Julliard for MFA [master of fine arts] students.

I’ve just used those programs as an example … could we strengthen other units? Of course, when we have the ability to do so, but that’s in the sciences too. 

Is there a chance the theatre arts major will come back?  

Sure, there is a chance. There are no plans on the table today. The decision to deactivate the theatre arts major was a tough one made under stressful budgetary circumstances. 

It is always a relative judgment — do you do this before you do that. I know it is a tough conversation to have with colleagues, especially if they are in the area where you said, “No, we are not going to invest here.” 

“We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once.”

— Michael Bernstein

We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once. 

We have to make some tough choices. I always say to people, “The word’s not ‘never,’ the word is ‘not right now,’ and we’ll have to see what the future brings. 

Is there a way to bridge the gap with commuters and residents so they both feel like they are a part of the campus?

At the moment, we can’t envision a future where we have 100 percent residency for our undergraduates. It just doesn’t seem practical in terms of the site, the amenities and infrastructure. 

Also, I don’t think it is something the student community wants. We have a significant community of students who prefer to be commuters for any number of reasons. We want to make sure we are delivering an outstanding experience for both the resident and commuter students. 

That’s challenging. We do have a student affairs team that is looking at the issue of commuter students. Thinking of ways of making the experience better.

Title IX [regarding sexual harassment, discrimination in education law]?

I think SUNY as a whole and here at the Stony Brook campus is resolutely committed to robust Title IX processes and procedures. We have good leadership at the Title IX office. We are constantly trying to make sure we are doing the best we possibly can. How can procedures be improved. 

One of our biggest concerns is that the information about Title IX processes and procedures is disseminated effectively, so that everyone at the university community is aware. 

I’m determined ongoing in this role to supply as much support as possible to them and let them know I have my hand on their back; making sure the campus is safe, secure and welcoming to all constituents is job No. 1. 

Rumors of the possibility of more shops on campus?

We’ve always been involved in thinking through opportunities for potential partnerships or ways to improve amenities and capacity on campus. 

I have no concrete contract to pull out and say we are doing this. We are exploring things all the time. We know we have to build more dorm capacity, which means we have to bring more amenities to campus.

If we can find partnership to do that, like we did with the hotel, we would explore that. Why wouldn’t we? I don’t know if it will happen but it is something worth exploring. 

What is the status of the new MART (Medical and Research Translation) building/Children’s Hospital?   

We have been frustrated by delays, but I’m told the latest is end of October for the MART and the beginning of November for the Children’s Hospital. 

Has the problem been in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system or foundation?

In response to this question, Nicholas Scibetta, vice president for marketing and communications, stepped in:

Not foundation. It’s more quality checks and things like that. It’s been our drive on our side -— the Stony Brook side — to make sure that everything is exactly where it needs to be.

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. TBR News Media file photo

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants that will go toward funding mathematics, engineering, physics and other science education.

On July 26, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced the university had been awarded five grants.

“Whether it’s educating the next generation, helping us protect our planet or pioneering the future of mathematics, Stony Brook University is on the front lines of research and innovation,” said Zeldin in a press release. “Driving this critical federal funding back to some of the brightest minds of our generation, located right here on Long Island, will go a long way in helping these scientists carry out their vital work.”

Of the five grants, the university’s engineering academy will receive the most funding with more than $1.1 million going to the program.

The academy’s stated goal is to increase students’ motivation to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program will prepare middle school students for advanced science and math courses as well as potential engineering careers down the line.

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

“The programs we have in place targeting K-12 students, teachers and counselors, as well as undergraduate and graduate students at Stony Brook, are key building blocks in constructing a diversity pathway in STEM,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Targeted to middle school students and teachers, this unique program will engage them in the excitement, challenge and opportunity in engineering as a field of study and potential career.”

The remaining funds will go toward research studies. More than $365,000 will be used to study physics and climate regulation. Also, researchers will look into understanding radiative balance and precipitation changes in tropical weather patterns.

Close to $300,000 will fund a study spearheaded by Anatoly Frenkel, which will look at electro-chemo-mechanical processes at the atomic level. According to Sotiropoulos, Frenkel’s research has the potential to transform a wide range of vitally important technologies, ranging from focusing devices in the cameras of cellular phones to fuel injectors in automobiles.

In addition, more than $300,000 will be used to fund two mathematics studies through the mathematics department.

“There is no greater catalyst for scientific discovery than research universities,” said Michael Bernstein, the recently appointed Interim President of Stony Brook University. “The grants we have received allow us to address society’s most pressing challenges. As Long Island’s sole public research institution, we remain committed to advancing scientific knowledge throughout our region and around the world.”

The five grants were awarded by the National Science Foundation, an agency created by Congress in 1950, which promotes the progress of science; advances national health, prosperity and welfare; and works to secure national defense.

Sacha Kopp recently announced his resignation from Stony Brook University. Photo from the Stony Brook University website.

Sacha Kopp, Stony Brook University’s dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sent a letter to SBU faculty members Feb. 26 announcing he would step down from the position.

Kopp did not cite his reasons for resigning, according to an article in The Statesman, the Stony Brook University student newspaper.

“I am mindful of the frustration felt over the substantial operating deficit we inherited and the additional significant cuts faced by the college during these last four years,” Kopp wrote, according to the newspaper. “I have shared your disappointment over this unfortunate reality and done my best to ensure that the college both meets its core obligations to its students and sustains and builds its program of excellence.”

Michael Bernstein, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs for Stony Brook University, said in a statement that Kopp will remain as dean until the end of the spring semester.

“A consummate gentleman and scholar, Sacha has led the college with dignity and respect,” Bernstein said.. “His energy, vision and leadership helped the college continue its pursuit of excellence in education, scholarship, art making and professional service.”

Bernstein credited the university’s 30 percent growth in African-American and Latino students in the freshman class and a 30 percent growth in the number of arts, humanities and social science majors in the freshman class to Kopp’s oversight in recent years. Bernstein also listed among Kopp’s accomplishments the recruitment of 50 new faculty members in key areas of instruction and research and increasing the number of endowed professorships in the college from one to nine.

The resignation comes in the midst of budget challenges at the university. Students and faculty members last year protested the plan to consolidate departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Other changes included the suspension of admissions into the undergraduate degree programs in theater arts, comparative literature, cinema and cultural studies and into the graduate degree programs in cultural studies and comparative literature.

According to the SBU website, Kopp was the associate dean for undergraduate education of the College of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin before coming to SBU in August 2014. During his time in Austin as a researcher, he studied the physics of elementary particles, and he is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles.

The university is currently searching for an interim dean, according to Bernstein’s statement.