By Jada Butler
On Friday, Oct. 12, Kay Sato, the director of the Hutton House, known for hosting lecture series and classes for adults, many of them retired residents of the communities surrounding campus, was abruptly fired. A beloved and inspiring administrator to many, her dismissal has caused uproar among faculty and students of the program.
Dr. Sato’s termination was due to the creation of a new School of Professional Studies (SPS) set to begin in fall 2019, in which the Hutton House continued education program will be included, according to a statement issued to the campus community by Dr. Rita Langdon and Lynne Manouvrier, the new dean and associate dean of SPS, in an email following Dr. Sato’s firing that Friday.
“To propel LIU’s advancement and prominence, we must provide a level of innovative and differentiated programming that drives enhanced community engagement and professional partnerships across diverse audiences. This is the impetus behind the renaming and revitalization of the LIU School of Professional Studies – an ambitious endeavor we are extremely excited about,” Langdon and Manouvrier wrote.
The email goes on to say the vision for SPS is to create an expansive learning platform that will identify synergies between existing programs, along with additional opportunities for experiential learning. “The school will support current students and diversify its curriculum, delivery approaches, and community engagement, which will inform and foster academic excellence across all of the programs comprising the School of Professional Studies,” it stated.
The Hutton House, launched in 1977 under Director Clair Fairman, will be one of eight programs that will make up the new school, including the Global institute led by Trustee and chairman, former congressman Steve Israel; the Hornstein Center for Policy, Polling and Analysis led by director and professor Stanley Klein; the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Sanford Education Programs, and Sanford Philanthropy; the Center for Gifted Youth; and certificate programs, enrichment courses and networking opportunities through professional education.
Those involved with the Hutton House were confused by the sudden move, as the program is not a professional study, but rather a cultural enrichment program that Dr. Sato described as “learning for the pleasure of learning” through a broad training of liberal arts.
More than a dozen faculty members have resigned from teaching in the program, many students – some wealthy LIU alumni and donors – withdrew from their classes and demanded refunds and dozens of letters have been sent to the board of trustees, along with a petition signed by over 130 faculty members (nearly half the full time faculty at Post) demanding the reinstatement of Sato. Among those letters is one from the Hutton House Lectures Advisory Board.
One of the points made by the advisory board was that LIU’s leadership should be leveraging the role of Sato, rather than eliminating it. “There can be no question that Dr. Sato has been singularly responsible for the success of the Program – she has not been an “administrator” but rather the heart and soul of the program,” the advisory board wrote. “The notion that she may simply be replaced with a more malleable administrator that will allow for further growth of the program and its financial benefits at the behest of the University’s leadership is ludicrous.”
The advisory board was not consulted about the decision to remove Sato, or to begin the reorganization of the program, which goes against its usual process, according to advisory board member, Hutton House “student” and former professor of education Susan Shenker.
“In the last five years, there have literally been hundreds of people terminated from the university in similar ways. Given that pattern, I was certainly aware that Dr. Sato was not in a secure position,” Shenker said. “Shared governance is a requirement of higher education institutions; we don’t have that at the moment at LIU.”
Gordon Tepper, the university director of public relations, responded to the Pioneer’s inquiries to Langdon, stating that the Hutton House had been “stagnant,” and that Langdon and Manouvrier are “truly energizing and elevating the program.”
“That’s a pure lie,” Sato said in response to Tepper. “We told the administration for a number of years that we had multiple waiting lists for people who wanted to take classes. We needed more rooms, but they wouldn’t give us more space. So we’ve been rotating two classrooms in Lorber Hall.”
Professors in the program also disagree with Tepper’s statement. From its conception in 1977, Hutton House brought in about 300 adult students per year. When Sato took over in 1995, that number jumped to about 1,300 students. Now, the program brings in more than 8,000 students each year, and has extensive waiting lists, according to Sato.
“[The program] was already energized,” said Dr. John Lutz, professor and chair of the English department, who has resigned from teaching at Hutton House. “I don’t think the students thought it was stagnant. It was a vibrant program,” he said. “If you don’t say how, that’s an empty word.”
Shawn Welnak, professor of philosophy, also resigned from the program, describing it as a program of “depth and breath,” under Sato’s guidance. “In a way, it’s not Kay’s loss,” he admitted. “She did more for us than we did for her. Her ability to give was unbounded, it’s astounding.”
“Kay was so eager to find inspiring teachers to set up courses in whatever area inspired them, to her credibly deep respect of the humanities,” Welnak said. “Kay is probably the most dedicated, most intelligent, most beloved person – not just staff, faculty, administrators – no one had a bad thing to say about Kay.”
Students at the Hutton House shared the same sentiments. Peter Gollon, who has taken three to four classes a year for 10 years, said the program was collegial. “The students were all middle-aged or older, who take very seriously what they are there to learn,” Gollon said. “It’s stimulating, whatever the academic hassle was with the administration, I didn’t see much of that,” he said, noting no issues with the program itself. Though Gollon noticed the budgetary issues, even once asking Sato why she was buying supplies out of her own pocket.
The advisory board wrote in an Addendum to the board of trustees that “budgets have been decreased to less than the total costs of materials, office supplies, and hospitality; donations by staff are, therefore, typically made to continue the smooth and uninterrupted operation of all HHL programs.”
After Sato’s dismissal, Gollon is considering withdrawing from his classes and demanding a refund along with several other students.
In the email from Langdon and Manouvrier, they thanked Sato for helping develop Hutton and for her service to Long Island University and to the community. They wrote, “We can assure you that we are now building upon Hutton House’s solid foundation by expanding programming to create a nationally recognized initiative that will have on-campus as well as off-site offerings throughout our region and the world.”
Until that email, Sato said she “never heard any thank you for my service – only from off campus” from her students. The Friday she was dismissed, she was told to leave her belongings and was escorted to her car and seen off campus – a practice done in corporations, not academia. She was also given a severance agreement, but did not sign it so that she can continue to support the faculty and students of the university.
“She was so horribly treated in the way she was dismissed,” Lutz said. “Maybe in a corporation, it’s okay, but it’s not like Kay was holding onto some state secrets.”
Lutz, along with many others, believes Sato’s firing was unjust. “When you break up teams like this, you undercut the whole educational mission of the university,” he said. “We’ve lost connections to the community – significant connections. It will have a negative impact for sure, not only financial, but [the community’s] attitude for the university as well – it hurts the reputation of the university.”
Sato formed strong bonds with both students and faculty, which Lutz says is unique in regards to the current relationship between faculty and administrators.
“She was such a resource to faculty,” Lutz said, describing how Sato helped faculty with many things from teaching something they’re interested in, to more mundane things like giving them a cup of coffee.
“You really have to value individuals and their contributions,” Lutz said, “and all these announcements are ambitious and exciting, but you have to build the path to it. We’re not going to accomplish them unless more account is taken of the human and the humane element.”
Sato couldn’t agree more. “I’ve always been pro-professors and students,” she said. “When you forget about them, then you’ve gone down the wrong path. It’s about the students, it’s about the professors, it’s about education – that’s what everyone should be dedicated to. Pledge that you’ll do good for students and professors or get out.”
Though Sato is gone, the program is expected to continue under the new School of Professional Studies. Whether or not the enrollments will continue to reflect the 8,000+ Sato and the professors brought in each year is unclear.
There is a chance that the students and professors of the program will continue to work together outside of the program. “I suspect [the students] will use their money to reconstitute this program on the side,” Welnak said after speaking to a few of his students who have all withdrawn from the program. “I’ve already been asked to continue teaching and been invited to their homes to do classes and continue – and I will continue to teach Homer to these people.”
As Sato said, liberal arts is the heart and soul of what it takes to learn, and these students have it. “You need to be broadly trained in the liberal arts, you’ll be able to problem solve and take on difficult tasks. That’s what you need to function and go out into the world.”