By Akanksha Kar
On Feb. 22, President Stanley addressed a board room of ten journalists from various campus media organizations, to discuss about some of the pressing concerns in the quality and fairness of student life on campus, amongst other concerns as well.
News editor Vaidik Trivedi and myself attended on behalf of The Stony Brook Independent, with the aim that Stanley would directly answer to some of the ongoing problematic concerns that has been on the minds of current and past students alike. Particularly with the quality of housing, the value and fairness of the dining system, and the state of the name with Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
After speaking with students over last and this semester, I noticed rising concerns with the increasing bodies being enrolled each year. Many incoming freshman were tripled in a double room. These Roosevelt quad residents, particularly freshman, said that they did not get enough information about on-campus housing from the Stony Brook housing website, and the content portrayed on the website was not accurate to what they experienced when they arrived to their dormitories.
Stanley said there would be attention given to additional undergraduate and graduate housing.
“We are going to build another dormitory,” he said. “A den, in Tabler, to accomodate for more students.” He also added that this project is getting ready to go into the design phase with the school’s construction fund.
“At the same time we’ve been looking at public-private partnerships that might allow us to build more of both graduate and undergraduate student housing, however it is still in discussion with private partners who potentially could do that,” he added.
Regardless of the upcoming new housing project, it still does not solve the issue that students in U1 or U2 standing face with the quality and accessibility to good housing on campus. Stanley says that “97 percent of freshman want to live on campus,” but the progress with undergraduate housing catering to them so far has been inadequate.
Resident buildings in the Roosevelt quad are significantly older than those in H quad and Toll Drive, and that difference shows significantly.
Recent and past discussions with students have concerned mold, asbestos, dorm room temperature extremes, faulty elevators and a lack of hot water. Some buildings, like Wagner, even have exposed rods, already very rusted, that jut out of corners of the staircases.
“I don’t know all the details on some of the issues you are raising and I’d be concerned if you are talking about asbestos, I’m sure that’s something we would respond to immediately,” Stanley said. “That’s obviously a significant health problem but I don’t believe that is a chronic problem in any of the dormitories on campus that I’m aware of.”
Then again, Stanley also admittedly said that “it’s certainly been a while” since he last visited the Roosevelt quad.
In terms of finding about the building’s structural safety, I consulted with an expert, who has been working in the field of civil engineering, building materials and construction chemicals for over 30 years now, and also works in a senior position in one of the world’s largest chemical companies. The source has requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the position and the company’s name.
“If the rod corrodes, there is a chemical reaction and these rods will basically expand within the confines of the concrete and will exert pressure, which will lead to further cracking of the concrete,” the source said.
“Then, depending upon whether people react fast enough to repair, the structures could be retained in integrity. However, if it [the repair] is delayed, then the repair costs could be enormous.”
“Safety of the students can be impacted as well because if, suddenly, chunks fall from the ceiling, beams, columns or even the stairways, it could collapse, leading to unforeseen damage to property and life,” he added.
Images: Taken by Akanksha Kar, outside Wagner College in Roosevelt quad.
The next perplexing issue was student meal plans and their value.
The smallest meal plan is $2,172, as dining dollars. However, the spendable amount is only that of $1,597 dining dollars. On Stony Brook University’s Meal Plan website, it states that one dining dollar is equivalent to $1. If this is the case, then the entire $2,172 worth of dining dollars should be allocated as $2,172 worth of money allocated for your personal food budget.
So where does the remaining $575 worth of your food budget go? President Stanley,“doesn’t know.”
“That sounds… like it,” Stanley responded wearily, as he raised his hands to his shoulders in a questionable “I don’t know” stance.
“This is one you need to ask Van Sullivan [Exec. Director of FSA at SBU] about as to why that discrepancy exists, because I don’t know.”
Stanley is aware of the fact that dining and its value have been an issue that has been on students’ minds, and while he says that the university has “worked hard to improve, based on responses to it,” the only generalised answer from him was that perhaps these discrepancies lie due to administration costs built in within the contracts with food providers.
This fell short for me, not just as an on-campus resident who pays for a resident meal plan, but also as a journalist who looks to voice similar concerns of students on this campus. It is just not good enough for the President of this university to “not know” how the allocation of this budget works, especially considering the fact that dining plays a significant and impactful role on majority of the student body.
Apart from student life on campus, President Stanley was also asked about whether there will be a decision regarding the change of name to LaValle Stadium.
The stadium’s name has been under fire by the LGBTQ community since Senator Kenneth LaValle, its namesake, voted against a ban on gay conversion therapy.
Stanley said he recognises that it can be upsetting for students to be part of a campus that affiliates with parties that support conversion therapy. However, while Stanley does not agree personally with conversion therapy, there are no current plans to initiate a change of name to the stadium.
“I was very pleased that there was a vote to ban conversion therapy,” Stanley said.
However, the decision to not change the name of the stadium was based on Sen. LaValle’s explanation to Stanley, via a letter about the Senator’s decision-making process and concerns whilst voting.
“At this point in time we have no intentions on doing that [changing the name],” Stanley said. “The senator’s information to me was satisfactory.”
Supporting Sen. LaValle’s rationale behind his voting decision — to allow standard protocol and input from physicians before deciding to ban the medical procedure — Stanley also added, “It is important to remember why the name was given [to the stadium] to begin with.”
And with that, it seemed as if the discussions on LaValle Stadium have been temporarily shut down.
In the hour long meeting that lasted with our esteemed university president, it seemed to be that while Stanley answered the questions with diplomacy and fairness, it was a little too rehearsed for them to be perceived as genuine or concerned responses. I came out of the meeting with my colleague discussing only the vagueness with which Stanley chose to speak. The Independent will publish a followup to this article with more evidence and specifics into these pressing issues.