Suffolk Closeup: Education highs and lows for 2016

JULIE LANE PHOTO Former Congressman Tim Bishop has returned to academia.
Former Congressman Tim Bishop has returned to academia.

Higher education had its highs and lows in Suffolk County in 2016.  A big high — the continuing success of Suffolk County Community College. It now has 27,000 students and has become the largest community college in the state. The late Shelter Island Town Supervisor Evans K. Griffing, in his years as a member of the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, including as its chairman, was an advocate of having a community college in Suffolk.

The big low — the closing this year of Suffolk County’s first four-year private college, Dowling College.

A low, too — the closing of the Suffolk campus of St. John’s University. (However, it has been sold to Amity Education Group of India, which intends to use it as a site for international students to live and study near New York City.) Also, Briarcliffe College, with a Suffolk campus, announced it will shut down in 2018.

A semi-high — Stony Brook Southampton has been on a reviving trend, somewhat. As Long Island University’s Southampton College, it was shut down in 2005. Shelter Island residents both attended and taught at Southampton College through its 42 years. I taught journalism there until the year it closed.

The following year, 2006, the campus was acquired for $35 million by the state, which proceeded to spend another $43 million to renovate it. But then Dr. Samuel Stanley, the new president of Stony Brook University, its home campus, announced in 2010 his decision to shut down all but a few programs.
A high — St. Joseph’s College Long Island, an offshoot of St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, has now grown to nearly 3,000 students at its campus in Patchogue.

Former Congressman Tim Bishop, whose district included Shelter Island, began teaching at St. Joseph’s College last year as a Distinguished Professor of Civic Engineering and Public Service. Before his tenure between 2003 and 2015 in the House of Representatives, Mr. Bishop was provost of Southampton College.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University continues to be a regional education powerhouse. Its current student totals: more than 17,000 undergraduates and nearly 9,000 graduate students.

It’s remarkable that until 1959 there was no institution of higher education Suffolk could call its own, even with population of 666,784 in the 1960 U.S. Census. Neighboring Nassau had just a few more people, 672,762, yet it had Adelphi College, Hofstra University and LIU’s C.W. Post College, along with Nassau County Community College, founded in 1959.

Straddling the border of both counties in Farmingdale, it began as the New York State School of Agriculture on Long Island in 1912 when both counties were rural. It’s booming now as four-year Farmingdale State College offering an array of academic programs with 8,000 students.

Suffolk Community was founded in 1959 with classes at Riverhead High School and Sachem High School in Ronkonkoma, then moving to what became its main campus in Selden, the site of a former tuberculosis sanatorium. It later was named the Ammerman Campus for Dr. Albert Ammerman, the college’s president from 1959 to 1983. Two additional campuses rose: the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood with now more than 9,000 students, named for a presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature.

And there is the Eastern Campus, often referred to as being located in Riverhead but actually in Northampton in Southampton Town. It has more than 4,000 students including some from Shelter Island, as the closest public college to the Island. (I’ve taught journalism there, too. It’s a sweet, homey campus.)

In 1959, too, Adelphi reached out from Garden City and launched Adelphi-Suffolk College in an unused public school building in Sayville. It later moved to Oakdale and, in 1968, became independent Dowling College, named after its benefactor, New York City real estate developer Robert W. Dowling.

I started at Antioch College in Ohio but deciding to get into journalism ASAP after an Antioch internship at the Cleveland Press, I headed back east and, figuring I needed more college to get into the field, went to Adelphi-Suffolk. I started a college newspaper there, named it The New Voice. I found Adelphi-Suffolk and then Dowling (I taught journalism there, too) very special. Dowling’s motto was “The Personal College.” That was true of it and Adelphi-Suffolk.

Closed in August after years of financial difficulty, Dowling filed for bankruptcy last month. Up for sale are its main 25-acre campus along the Connetquot River in Oakdale, including its signature structure, the former William K. Vanderbilt Mansion, and a 100-acre Shirley campus, which had an aviation focus.

Just a quarter-mile west of Dowling was the Suffolk campus of Queens-based St. John’s University, purchased this year for $22.5 million to be part of Amity University of India.
Career Education Corp., owner of Briarcliffe, also tried to sell but couldn’t find a buyer. Patchogue has been the site of its Suffolk campus.

These closings touch me personally — and I’m sure many readers feel the same. Beyond my teaching at two of the schools, a son of ours graduated from Briarcliffe with an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science and another graduated from Dowling, going on to become an attorney. Son Adam is a former Riverhead Town Attorney.

It’s good news that Stony Brook Southampton, after years of looking like a ghost campus, a waste of state resources, has increased activity led by humming marine sciences and writing programs. With the plan for a new Southampton Hospital to be built on the 84-acre campus, many programs in health sciences would be coming. Still, cutting short the life there of what had been at its heart and was becoming successful —an environment-focused college — was a bad decision.