The Spartan– Spring Edition Highlights

April 15th, 2013 Posted in College News & Events
Auburn/Cayuga CC Turns 60

Editor’s note:  In the spring/summer edition of The Spartan our lead story gave a brief history of the college’s first thirty years.  While researching facts for this article, we found many interesting stories.  Space was limited in the print edition, so we thought we would share the “uncut” version here.  Enjoy!

In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, doorways, endings and time.  He is generally portrayed as a two-faced god, though not in the negative sense.  He looks to the past and the future.   As we reach this milestone, it’s clear to see why references to “Janus” have been made so often in our college publications. 

To commemorate 60 years of Auburn/Cayuga Community College, this issue of “The Spartan” will look in both directions.  We will reflect on the formative years of our alma mater in this issue and will begin by looking back at the first 30 years to see how it all came to be.  The transition of our story will continue in the fall/winter edition where we will give you a comprehensive look forward to the past thirty years to here we are today as well as a look to our future. 

1953 was the year that would change the lives of many in central New York.  An indelible mark would be made in Auburn, one that would continue to grow and evolve for years to come.    We would like to share excerpts from “A History of Auburn Community College During Its Founding Period 1953-1959” written by ACC’s first dean, Albert Skinner.

The Pioneer Years

“The community college concept began to develop through the 1950s with increasing rapidity as the awareness of its tremendous potential became more and more apparent”.

Through the determined efforts of many individuals, i.e., the faculty members, president, dean, college trustees, education commissioners, and the executive dean of State University, Auburn Community College was ready to open in the fall of 1953 as had been planned.

Appointment of Staff – Our original “multi-taskers”

On July 7, 1953, Albert T. Skinner was appointed as dean of the college.  In addition to administrative duties, the position was to include a full teaching load for the first year and partial teaching thereafter until the college was large enough to justify a full administrative position.  Full authority was given the dean by the president, Charles G. Hetherington, to admit students, prepare initial programs of study, write the catalog, administer the academic program, and in general have full responsibility for the development of the college in all phases of activity except that of the budget.  This arrangement continued in effect for five years until the dean became president.

At this same time, John J. Syrjala, Warren M. Taylor and Wilbur T. Kent were appointed to teach English, science, and business courses, respectively, in the new college.  On July 28 appointments to the full-time instructional staff were completed with the approval of Norman F. Bourke for social science and Minerva C. Scott for secretarial science.

Preliminary Organization

On July 15, 1953, Dean Skinner arrived in Auburn from Plattsburg, New York, where he had been on the faculty of Champlain College.  For the first three weeks headquarters for the dean consisted of a desk in the Board of Education offices at city hall.  When the secretary, whose desk he was occupying, returned from vacation he was shifted to another.  It was a very trying situation, for in addition to the urgency for organizing effective material for news releases, interviewing prospective students, and writing a catalog, there was no secretarial help available until August 17.  Since time was short he did his own secretarial work for four weeks until the Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Minerva C. Scott to act as his secretary for the rest of the month.

The James Street Building

The college was to be housed in the vacant elementary school on the corner of James and Orchard Streets.  To supplement these classroom facilities, the laboratories, gymnasium, auditorium, and mechanical drawing room at West High School were to be used.  Two science laboratories and shop facilities for electrical technology would be available at the high school each afternoon after one o’clock so that a very satisfactory laboratory schedule would be possible for college courses.

The main problem concerned itself with the elementary school which had been erected in 1885.  Each room and corridor was sadly in need of sanding and painting; the heating system was extremely inefficient and inadequate; the electrical system was outmoded and in need of complete rewiring; in fact the entire building was in extremely poor repair.

It was decided that the classroom needs of the college for the first year could be met by the use of the second floor only in the James Street School.  This would eliminate the necessity of attempting to completely renovate the building in the short time remaining and allow a better cleaning job to be done in the area to be used.  The second floor was in fairly good condition by the time the college opened in the fall.

However, the first floor presented a very different appearance.  The classrooms were crammed with chairs, tables, and desks; the wide corridor with playground slides, sand boxes, old victrolas, and busts of national heroes; in fact, this first floor seemed to contain all the old equipment that had accumulated since 1895.

The playground area was to be used for parking.  During that first year of operation before this was blacktopped, the mud at times became as real a challenge to students and faculty as preparing a lesson for the next day.

On July 9, 1953, the Citizen-Advertiser announcement that the Auburn Business School operated by Wilbur T. Kent officially would discontinue operations in August due to inadequate enrollment.  As a result, Hetherington was able later to purchase virtually all of the equipment necessary for the college secretarial courses from Kent for less than $2,500.

First Academic Year, 1953-1954

On Monday morning, September 14, 1953, the students began to formally enroll in the new institution.  Registration was scheduled for the first three days of the week with testing and orientation sessions to be held on Thursday and Friday (as reported in the “Citizen-Adviser”, September 19, 1953).  A former kindergarten room, painted a brilliant pink and located on the first floor, had been designated as the registration area.  Old wooden tables and heavy captain’s chairs (both formerly the property of Kent’s Business School) furnished the room.  By modern standards it was not a very inspiring approach to higher education, yet faculty and students seemed aware that regardless of the condition of the physical plant the new institution would be, in fact, a true college by virtue of their academic efforts in the classroom.

College records show that fifty-three student completed registration procedures that first day.  During the next two days a total of 16 more signed up for full-time classes which were to begin on Monday September 21, at 9:00 in the morning.

On Thursday and Friday mornings, September 17 and 18, these 69 students were given a series of tests which were to be used for guidance purposes by the faculty members.

Early Enrollment

The original enrollment of 69 full-time students in 1953 had increased to 386 by the fall of 1959.  Twenty-four counties were represented in the student body by September 1959.

To keep pace with the increase in enrollments the number of faculty members on a full-time basis had reached a total of twenty-three.

A Record Making College

Auburn Community College was the first unit of the State University of New York to be created in its entirety after SUNY was established in 1948.  The establishment of all other SUNY community colleges between 1948 and 1953 was in each case a legal transaction; the institutions were already established and there was simply a change in the sponsorship.  The college at Auburn was started from scratch; faculty, curriculum, physical plant, equipment, and supplies had to be procured and the student body recruited all in the space of a few short months.

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