Want a Campus Resurrection

Originally published August 05, 2004

About 100 people showed up at the Avram Theater at Southampton College on Sunday night to discuss the college's closing and what might be done to save its undergraduate programs.
Scott Carlin, a professor of environmental studies, moderated a panel that included Representative Tim Bishop, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, and Elizabeth Haile and Lance Gumbs of the Shinnecock Tribe.

Mr. Gumbs noted that it was the first time that representatives of the Shinnecocks had been invited to enter discussions of the college's future.

He warned that any decision about the college "must include the Shinnecock nation." Calling the campus "prime time real estate" in a "prime time real estate market," he said "any sale of the campus would push the nation into the greatest land claim in the history of New York State."

As an alternative, Mr. Gumbs suggested that allowing Indian gambling on the East End would allow the tribe to pay for the college's programs.

"Let's not get into a turf war," he said. The college "means as much to the Shinnecock Nation as everyone else. Let's work together to save the institution."

Several schemes to help keep undergraduate programs at the 100-acre campus, or at least to preserve it for some educational purpose, have recently come to light, and the panel seemed to think that a resurrection was indeed possible.

Mr. Bishop said that while he was happy to participate in what he termed the "autopsy" of the school, the focus should be on "where we go from here." When he first began working at the college in 1973, he said, one of the first topics of conversation was, "Could this place survive? There were problems then but we overcame them," he said.

Efforts by local and state officials to encourage the State University at Stony Brook to step in to save the college's undergraduate programs will be discussed in a press conference this morning at Southampton Town Hall.

Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick A. Heaney has said that he will explore the possibility of changing the zoning on campus from residential to educational use to discourage developers anxious to snap up the land.

Mr. Bishop warned that the discussions were in an early phase and said that while he "hopes a deal will be forthcoming, we're not yet at that point. There will be some time before decisions get made."

Suffolk County Community College, he said, could also move programs to the campus, working "side by side" with Stony Brook.

Mr. Bishop said that a special committee of Long Island University's board of trustees was still deciding how best to use the land, and that the "officers of the board wish to see the property remain an educational and cultural institution." That wish is "well supported by elected officials" and the community, he said.

Ms. Haile, echoing Mr. Gumbs in asserting that the college occupies part of the Shinnecock's traditional territory, also said that having a college in walking distance from the reservation was a "miracle." She said, too, that losing the college could dimish the drive to seek "wholesome activities" among the children on the reservation.

George C. Stankevich, a lawyer representing the Shinnecocks, said that as a lawyer and investment banker, he knew about real estate deals. "I look at the college closing for a real estate deal and see an educational Enron," he said.