Thursday, June 19, 2008


Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny, who shepherded the campus through a period of explosive growth but lately faced sharp challenges to her leadership, will retire next June after 14 years at the helm.Kenny, 73, Stony Brook's fourth president and the first woman, told senior university staff of her decision at a meeting Wednesday night and plans to send out an announcement to the campus community via e-mail Thursday. Kenny's tenure is unusually long for a university president: a survey by the American Council on Education released last year found the average president served 8.5 years on the job. Her announcement comes as the state university system searches for a new chancellor.Reached at her home Wednesday night, Kenny confirmed her planned retirement."I am enormously proud of what we have achieved together and grateful for the opportunity to work with you," her e-mail to the campus reads. "Now I have made this decision because I believe it is the right time; my husband and I are ready for a new chapter in our lives. She said Wednesday night that she and her husband, Robert, expect to move back to Washington, D.C., where four of their children live. The controversies of the past few years did not factor into her decision. "I am looking forward, not back," she said.Known for a forceful style served up with a Texas twang, Kenny cultivated local and state politicians and business leaders to pull off a series of bold moves that transformed Stony Brook from a barren, unappealing concrete campus into a nationally ranked university with landscaped courtyards, a student activities center, an athletics stadium named for state Sen. Kenneth LaValle, and a satellite campus in Manhattan. She also presided over the school's takeover of Brookhaven Laboratory and Southampton College, and has secured funding to study adding a law school."She's done a phenomenal job -- enrollment has increased, the physical plant has been increased in beauty tenfold -- a hundredfold," said Michael Russell, the state university trustee representing Long Island. "They've taken over Southhampton and they have a world-class medical center -- all under her tutelage."Still, the Stony Brook University Medical Center has proved to be Kenny's Achilles' heel. Following the deaths of three children at the hospital in 2006, the state Health Department investigated the hospital's operations and cited it for 36 violations and $72,000 in fines. Kenny appointed a blue-ribbon commission to evaluate the hospital's operations. The panel found no problem with the hospital's day-to-day care, but criticized its leadership structure, saying Kenny should not be so closely involved with daily decision-making.And in April, a group of professors from the university's largest school said it had lost confidence in her leadership, submitting a petition to Kenny bearing more than 150 signatures. The petition from the faculty at the College of Arts and Sciences accused Kenny of "egregious mismanagement." Kenny and the faculty group are set to meet sometime this summer about the issues raised in the petition.The search for a replacement will be led by Stony Brook's College Council, a group of community leaders appointed by the governor.