When the University was first established on its Bloomfield Avenue site, it was hoped that in due course it might become an educational park to serve the city. A new Weaver High School was built next to the campus, and the Annie Fisher Elementary School was built close by. Taking advantage of a national trend toward greater cooperation between elementary and secondary education on the one hand and higher education on the other, President Tonkin announced a far-reaching plan of cooperation with city schools. Called Educational Main Street, the program brought Weaver, Annie Fisher, and also Fox Middle School together with the University into a four-institution partnership intended to make it easier for young people to move from educational level to educational level, to open up the schools to tutoring and mentoring by University of Hartford students, and to pool the intellectual resources of teachers in the schools and professors at the University. The new dean of the College of Education, Nursing, and Health Professions, Dr. Donn Weinholtz, threw himself enthusiastically into the effort, and soon literally hundreds of students were working in the schools and cooperative programs emerged between University departments and teachers in corresponding fields. Subsequently, the University spearheaded an effort to establish, and secure initial funding for, a Hartford Urban Education Network to address the problems of the schools of the city. The University is also working with the city and the state on a magnet elementary school to be built on land adjacent to the campus and to be linked with the University's programs in education.
The National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for a visiting professorship in the teaching of the humanities intended to assist humanities teachers and professors, and Harry Gray once again stepped forward to provide the matching money required by the NEH. University Regent George Weiss announced the adoption of the entire fifth grade at Annie Fisher Elementary School, and he and his wife provided funding, assisted by Regent Morton Handel and his wife Irma, along with John and Beverly Berman, to provide these students with University support staff who would stay with them as they made their way through middle school and high school on their way to a tuition-paid college education. Finally, in a move that changed the composition of the University significantly and established a close and harmonious relationship with the city, Dr. Tonkin announced that all qualified students graduating from Hartford's high schools would be admitted to the University at half the normal tuition, with additional financial aid provided as needed. Within a year, the intake of students from the city doubled. The College of Basic Studies was pressed into service to assist, and the Associates, an organization of business friends of the University, adopted as its special task the raising of scholarship money for the program.
The University's relationship with the city changed in other ways too. Outreach to business and industry had always been one of the University's special strengths, and President Tonkin built on this relationship. He threw his support behind the Engineering Applications Center, headed by the Vernon Roosa Professor, Dr. Devdas Shetty, and behind the Construction Institute. With the financial assistance of Regent Richard Gordon and several local corporations, a Downtown Center was opened on Pratt Street to provide training and educational facilities for city businesses, thereby bringing the University's programs back to the downtown area after many years of absence. When the deanship of the Barney School of Business and Public Administration fell vacant, the University turned to a business leader from the city, Peter Libassi, of Travelers, and a new dean of engineering, Dr. John Cagnetta, was recruited from Northeast Utilities.
But the insurance industry from which Dean Libassi came was falling on hard times. As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, and as the financial services and defense industries went simultaneously into decline, the Hartford area was beset with increasing difficulties. Unemployment soared. Particularly hard hit were middle-level and executive employees, many of whose sons and daughters attended the University of Hartford. Corporate giving, needed to pay for the University's buildings and for its new outreach programs, shrank. Enrollment, hit simultaneously by demographic and economic decline, also turned downwards. With real estate prices plummeting, inexpensive housing became readily available off campus and the new on-campus housing was suddenly less able to compete. A grand new initiative spearheaded by the University to build inexpensive housing north of the campus for its employees and those of the Watkinson School, Hartford Hospital, the Hartford Graduate Center, and St. Francis and Mount Sinai Hospitals could not be carried through. Only the show house was built -- on a corner of the Watkinson School property adjoining the University. However, one outcome of the effort was that the University's land holdings to the north and southeast of the campus expanded, and engineering studies financed by the project gave a better sense of how this land could be used in the future.
The University weathered the economic storm, but it was a difficult time for all. Heavy debt limited the options, and tuition dependency forced the University into fierce competition for students. Budget cuts necessitated the discontinuance of the University's MBA program in Paris, which had ceased to be profitable and academically justifiable as French-based MBA programs, modeled on their American counterparts, began to be introduced. The overall size of the University's payroll was reduced all across the University as staff positions were consolidated and faculty positions eliminated through early retirement and attrition. When the process was over, the administrative payroll had shrunk by upwards of twenty percent.
One casualty of the economic climate in Hartford was an institution that had been involved in the discussions that resulted in the formation of the University in 1957 but at the time had opted not to join -- Hartford College for Women. In the fall of 1991, amid mounting debt and falling enrollment, the college merged with the University, which assumed responsibility for its Asylum Avenue campus.
more> Chapter 5 — Section III