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Chapter 2 — Section I

For the remainder of 1957, an administrative council, consisting of the presidents of Hartt, Hillyer, and the Hartford Art School, administered the affairs of the new institution. But it was clear that to make any of the three, Paranov, Tompkins, or Wilson, president of the overall organization would be to raise once again all the anxieties about preserving individual traditions and values that had delayed the merger for so many years.

A committee headed by Regent Atwood Collins, a Hartford attorney and former United Nations official, began a search for a Chancellor for the University of Hartford. Meeting once a week, they considered some fifty-four candidates, ultimately selecting Vincent Brown Coffin, an insurance executive with Connecticut Mutual Life in Hartford and an intimate of many of the local business leaders, for the job. Their choice was considerably influenced by President A. Whitney Griswold of Yale, who suggested that they choose "a successful businessman who also had some background and interest in education." The new Chancellor had had some experience as a full-time faculty member at New York University and had served for many years on the Wesleyan University board, so he was not wholly without higher education experience, but his widow, the late Mary Coffin, put the primary reason for the choice more succinctly: "Vince knew where the money was."

For fund-raising was, and continues to be, a major concern for a University that has traditionally depended on income from tuition and fees, not income from capital endowment. With its constituent parts emerging from a short history of comparative impoverishment, the new University needed all the help it could get. Vincent Coffin quickly recruited trustees and donors such as Beatrice Fox Auerbach, owner of the G. Fox department store, and her daughters Mrs. Bernard Schiro and Mrs. Richard Koopman, who gave, in addition to their support for many other facilities already cited, the Auerbach family residence on Prospect Avenue, to be used as a University guest house and meeting facility. It is now known as the ASK House, in honor of the Auerbach, Schiro, and Koopman connection.

Every founding member of the University was expected to recruit as many donors as possible from the business, educational, manufacturing, and social service communities, and this is how the list of founders grew so extensively over the first few years of the University's existence. Within a few years, there was hardly a major business in town that did not have its connection with the board. All over the Greater Hartford area, donors accepted the opportunity to become part of the dream.

The plans for the new campus were ambitious: Phase One was to consist of six buildings, designed to house engineering (this became United Technologies Hall), science and mathematics (which became Dana Hall), the library and business administration (which became Auerbach Hall), fine arts and University Administration (ultimately two separate buildings), music and University auditorium (which became the Fuller Center, housing The Hartt School), and liberal arts and education. This last was in fact the first building on the new campus, opened in 1960 as University Hall and in 1976 renamed Hillyer Hall. The initial projected cost of the buildings was eight and a half million dollars. The University was administered from North House, one of the old Gabriel buildings, which now contained the Chancellor's Office.

The new University became a member of the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1961 and received its initial accreditation four years later, thus opening the way to fund-raising from foundations that could only give to fully accredited institutions. The University has been reaccredited every ten years since, most recently in 1991.

With the establishment of the old divisions of Hillyer College as separate schools, the administrative structure of the University immediately took on a new complexity. For the sake of unity, and to demonstrate that it had no intention of simply absorbing its two smaller partners, the old Hillyer College moved swiftly to dissolve its existing board of trustees, but Hartt College and the Hartford Art School chose to retain theirs as the process of building a unified institution continued. Hartt and the Art School both sought in various ways to define their role in this broad-based institution, whose three founding members presented such different profiles and whose intellectual interests were so disparate. After much discussion, Hartt College decided that, in a university setting, the conservatory and performance-oriented nature of the education it offered would be best served by redesignating the college as the Hartt School of Music. Recently, the designation "of Music" has been dropped as the school has expanded into other performing arts. One notable continuance, however, very much in the tradition of all three founding members of the University, was the large Hartt Community Division, which offers individual and ensemble lessons to students in the greater Hartford area ranging in age from infants to senior citizens and today enrolls well over a thousand students.

A significant omission from Phase One was provision for dormitories or other on-campus living facilities, although of course there was no lack of suitable building space. The omission was not accidental: almost all of the student body was local, or at least lived within commuting distance. This state of affairs was destined to change, however, because in the course of the 1960s the State of Connecticut began to develop a community college system offering two-year education at strategic locations around the state, with subsidized tuition levels far below what a private college such as the University of Hartford could offer, and, indeed, even lower than the tuition and fees of the University of Connecticut.

Not for the first time, nor for the last, the community of institutions now known as the University of Hartford had to shift its sights, focusing on new student markets and adapting its programs accordingly. As Professor Bill Brayfield was later to observe, "The University of Hartford has always been extraordinarily nimble in responding to changes in the market, both in terms of programs and of constituencies." Depending for its livelihood on tuitions, it had little choice.

Its agility enabled the University to understand that, with its extraordinarily beautiful suburban campus, it offered a safe and attractive location halfway between the population concentrations of Boston and New York, with easy access to both cities for students who wanted freedom from their parents during the week and the ability to go home on the weekend. The first residence halls, known rather unromantically as Complexes A, B, C, and D, were opened in 1967, with residence halls E and F following in 1971. The buildings were financed in part by state bond issues. Also in 1967, the University strengthened its commitment to campus living with the opening of both the Gengras Campus Center, now the Gengras Student Union, and the Physical Education Center now incorporated into the Sports Center.

In 1967, an initial phase of the University of Hartford came to an end with the retirement of Vincent Brown Coffin as the University's first CEO. He had overseen the transition from three colleges to one University, and the beginning of plans for conversion from primarily a commuting university to at least a partially residential one. The beginning phase of the University was now over, though the battle for resources for the new institution would continue, and the delicate balance between education in the arts and education to serve the business and industry of the region would keep successive administrations alert to the need to serve all constituencies. Firmly established on its site on Bloomfield Avenue, the University was poised to grow, taking its place among Connecticut's institutions of higher education and ultimately becoming the second largest private university in the state.

more> Chapter 3