September Spotlight: Samuel Stanley

By Aileen Jacobson

Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., is a respected physician, renowned researcher and experienced administrator—but he’s just starting his freshman year at Stony Brook University, where he is the new president. Stanley, 55, comes to Stony Brook from Washington University in St. Louis, where he was vice chancellor for research, a professor of medicine and microbiology and the director of a regional laboratory specializing in infectious diseases, his field of expertise. A graduate of the University of Chicago and of Harvard Medical School, he now heads Long Island’s largest single-site employer, with 14,500 employees. Stony Brook, part of the State University of New York, has 24,000 students, 2,100 faculty members and a $1.8 billion budget. It includes a medical center, a performing arts center, three business incubators, a new Southampton campus and a new research and development park. Stanley spoke to LI Pulse in his spacious office, where he sat in a conversation area and at a conference table, never behind his desk.

You have four children. Are any still at home?
My 14-year-old, Sam. He’ll attend Murphy Junior High.

Is your wife moving to Long Island?
She will. She’s a gastroenterologist and she runs a large laboratory, so there’s a lot of housecleaning to do. She’s negotiating to do something at Stony Brook. Being on my own has been rough.

Will you continue your research?
There’s just no time. I think I’ll miss it. Three years ago, I gave up my practice, and I still miss it.

Stony Brook has expanded in recent years. Will all the components be sustainable in this economy?
That’s a big challenge. But the future of the economy is in higher education, and it’s in health care, and those are two areas where Stony Brook has played a major role. So I hope legislators recognize how important we are.

I read that Stony Brook is seeking to be named a SUNY flagship.
There’s no official designation like that. What we are trying to say is that there are differences among institutions. We’re the only SUNY school with a research and a medical center. We want to be given more flexibility in setting tuition. It probably would mean higher tuition, but some of that money would go to scholarships.

What’s in peril because of budget cuts?
Some things have already slowed down. The expansion of our recreation center has been held up. We have had to cut some courses. We were asked to cut $14 to $15 million out of our budget, and another round is a possibility.

At your previous job, you had a lot of national grants. Will you look to those sources here?
Absolutely. That’s an area where we can grow revenue. To get grants, you need an outstanding faculty, and you need to provide them with protected time. When we cut costs, we give faculty more teaching responsibilities and then they can’t do research. So finding ways to give them more protected time is critical. And making sure we have state of the art equipment, and then having outstanding graduate students.

Your graduate students have asked for more pay. Is that going to happen?
If someone handed me a bucket of money, that would be high on my priority list.

What else is high on your list?
Recruiting more faculty. Expanding faculty would help us improve the student-faculty ratio and that would help us get better students.

Are you already attracting higher-level students because of the economy?
Yes. We are a bargain.

Do you want to expand faculty in all fields or only some?
My strategy, when resources are limited, is to find areas where we already have a strong base and add faculty that can help other departments as well. The best example I have is the University of Chicago, which for years invested a lot in their economics department, and of course they grew it into one of the best in the world. That level of excellence helped their business school and their law school.

Where would you expand?
Clearly physics and math are very powerful departments. If we can build on them, that would help our medical campus as well. There are others I’ll be looking at in the social sciences and the humanities.

What about improving your links to Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory?
This triumvirate provides us with much greater opportunities than any of us have singly in getting grants. Our history with Cold Spring Harbor is not as extensive, so I anticipate more growth. If the folks at Cold Spring Harbor have a scientific discovery, we have the ability to do the translation to the human sector. We have the medical center.

How has being a physician helped or hurt you as an administrator?
It gives me a certain calm. When you’ve dealt with life or death—I’m not trying to brag or use clichés, but it does tend to give you perspective.