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Chapter 3

Vincent Coffin was succeeded as Chancellor by Archibald Woodruff, an individual of broad intellectual interests whose particular specialty was third-world development. In November 1970, with the three constituent schools now fully operational as a single University, his title was changed to President. Top administrators were named "vice presidents" by the Board of Regents. In President Woodruff's ten-year leadership, the University continued its expansion and its regional visibility. The University Commons, built to provide eating facilities for resident students, was added in the center of the residence halls in 1971, overlooking the river, and Mortensen Library, just across the river from the Commons, was dedicated in 1971, freeing up vital space for the expansion of programs in Auerbach Hall.

Before his retirement, Chancellor Coffin had overseen plans for the launching of a new college, the College of Basic Studies. In 1966, the Regents of the University of Hartford, having studied experiments in both New York City and Boston, determined that there was a need "to provide high-quality education adjusted to the needs of students who are deemed capable of profiting from college-level instruction but are not quite ready to proceed in the manner and at the pace established in the baccalaureate programs of present-day institutions of higher learning. In Greater Hartford there are hundreds of such young men and women. They possess identifiable academic potential, but do not qualify for admission to a four-year college because their school records are spotty, their rank in class is low, or their College Board scores are unimpressive.

Thus did Dean Kenneth L. Meinke, formerly superintendent of schools in Hartford, announce the purpose and prospectus for the College of Basic Studies, to open that fall in the Niles Street building recently vacated by the Ward Technical Institute. The opening enrollment was approximately eighty students, most of them, at least initially, commuter students.

"For a limited number of these young people," Dr. Meinke went on, "the College of Basic Studies offers one more opportunity for a college education. Its purpose is threefold: through extensive guidance, with whatever psychological assistance may be necessary, to help such students assume a more responsible and realistic role in their everyday life; through remedial instruction, to teach them to study and retain what they study; and through understanding, encouragement, and hard work, to help them complete successfully a program comparable to that offered to freshmen and sophomores of most four-year colleges."

Under Dean Meinke's direction, and with a faculty chosen for its teaching talent and its willingness to give students individual attention, a strong program focused on the acquisition of learning skills was established. Soon the program drew attention up and down the East Coast, and this attention increased when the college was moved to the main campus during the academic year 1971-72. Not only did the program compete successfully with the new community colleges in Connecticut by providing a better product and preparing its students well for the rigors of four-year colleges, it also attracted late-blooming and talented students from throughout the region, many of whom went on to highly successful careers at leading colleges and universities.

In the early days, some eighty percent of the students passing through the program chose to seek admission at other institutions, but as the University of Hartford's residential facilities and program options grew, more and more of its successful students were admitted into the University's four-year programs. Today, with some four hundred students, the program, renamed Hillyer College in 1992 in preparation for its twenty fifth anniversary, is an important element in the mix of educational programs at the University. Hillyer students have been particularly successful in assuming leadership positions in the student body, and it is not always recognized that its tradition of close, intensive teaching has set a standard for much of the rest of the institution that helps attract good students to the University as a whole. It is also no accident that one of its recent deans, Dr. Anne Fitzmaurice, went on to become the University's dean of students.

The phenomenon of the College of Basic Studies perhaps deserves special comment. It is as good an example as any of the way in which the University has adapted to changing circumstances. At a time when free-standing private junior colleges were withering in the face of competition from community colleges, the University recognized that it could build on its long tradition of two-year education by offering an educational product that combined the advantages of supportive and disciplined education with the programmatic scope of a full-fledged four-year college. Affluent families up and down the East Coast, their sons and daughters unable to secure a place in more cautious four-year colleges elsewhere, flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. While the market has changed again in recent years, the program continues to draw. When the University's average combined SAT scores appear in the national press, or when guidance counselors take stock of who is or is not admitted to programs at the University of Hartford, the special character of the University is not always given adequate recognition: it specializes in offering high-quality programs for strong students, while providing others with the opportunity to enter this select group. In other words, it is an institution with multiple entry points. It does all of this on a single campus, with a single set of support services.

Of course, the opening of the College of Basic Studies put strain on the focus and direction of the institution in certain respects. While financially and academically the decision made sense, it did little to enhance the status of the Hartford Art School or the Hartt School with their national reputations as schools of the arts. Both Chancellor Coffin and President Woodruff were willing to take the gamble: they evidently calculated that a broadening of the base of the University would enhance the flow of resources to all its parts, and the benefits in enhanced resources would outweigh the potential costs in blurring the University's admissions image.

The move of Ward College to the main campus in 1971, when East Hall was opened, signaled a new era for another of the University's components with an unusual history. Samuel I. Ward was President of Crystal Research Laboratories (CRL), which emerged during World War II as the leading supplier of specialized electronic crystals for the military. By war's end in 1945, it became apparent that the new medium of television was going to revolutionize America, though interestingly enough this development had not been fully foreseen in the World's Fair of 1939, which attempted to predict American life in the early 1960s. Sensing the need for skilled technicians to serve the youthful industry, Samuel Ward began a training school on Allyn Street, above his wife's successful and well-known interior decorating studio. While technically adequate, and despite his wife's expertise, the premises were aesthetically unappealing when the CRL School of Electronics opened there on February 24, 1948, with seventy-five students.

As with the post-war Hillyer College, the school depended heavily on financing through the G.I. Bill of Rights. This financing carried with it inspections to make sure that students were actually in attendance, and that all the rules and regulations that were appropriate for any college or university, but really beyond the scope of a modest proprietary training school over a store, were being carried out. Yet the school was bursting at the seams with students. Indeed, that was part of the problem.

Mr. Ward saw a solution that would continue the valuable work of the CRL School, answer the questions of academic administration and regulation, and also provide him partial financial compensation for the time, equipment, and dedication he had put into an enterprise already proving its worth for the business and technical community. He gave the school and its assets to Hillyer College in 1952.

The school was renamed the Ward School of Electronics, and moved to property at 44 Niles Street formerly owned by the Hartford Board of Education. The property was extensively renovated to take the new school, though such amenities as parking for students were woefully inadequate. Chester Gehman, author of a recent history of the school and an emeritus professor at Ward, recalls that a bell in the middle of class would signal that the policeman assigned to issue parking tickets on Niles Street had entered the school for a cup of coffee. While he was detained by a secretary, students rushed to their cars and moved them up and down the street to new locations, returning to class just as the officer, who doubtless knew exactly what was going on, had finished his second cup of coffee and was on his way out to resume his rounds. As the school continued to grow, and additional property was leased on Trout Brook Drive in West Hartford, in what was later to become the Science Center of Connecticut, students and faculty seemed to be spending as much time driving back and forth between classes and labs as they were devoting to technical and educational pursuits.

A technical college such as Ward was something of a daring innovation for Hillyer College. True, Hillyer had offered engineering courses since at least 1919, designed to meet the needs of local business and industry, but engineering was considerably more theoretical than the technical, applied work carried out at Ward. Therefore, Hillyer chose to call the Ward School an "affiliate" rather than a department or division, and the Ward diplomas were so inscribed until 1967, long after the merger.

In fact, it was not until 1964 that Ward began to offer a full-blown associate's degree, and baccalaureate degrees followed only in 1981. The entire operation was consolidated in East Hall in 1971, as we have noted, and the school changed its name again, this time to the Samuel I. Ward College of Technology. Today, its two-year programs have for all practical purposes been phased out, and its four-year programs include architectural engineering technology, chemical engineering technology, and computer engineering technology.

One of Ward's most impressive activities was its involvement with the Technical Education Consortium, incorporated in 1965 and jointly sponsored by IBM, Honeywell, GE, and several other interested companies. The goal of the consortium was to define the needs of the emerging electro-mechanical technology as it related to the business machine industry. A group of six contributing schools including Ward were chosen as members, with Ward as the center of operations. A suggested curriculum was formulated, based on the best efforts of the contributors, and the resulting manual was financed, published, and distributed by the United States government for over one hundred technical schools.

The Woodruff years were characterized by the national unrest of the Vietnam era, with many protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins on campuses around the country. Failing to find a suitable means of venting their frustration against what they considered an unjust war and an unjust draft for military service, many college students took out their frustrations on the nearest symbols of authority: their colleges and universities. The gentle Arch Woodruff not only listened patiently and counseled both students and faculty wisely: he knew instinctively how to use humor to defuse potentially serious conflict. He suggested to one demanding student activist wishing to engage him in public, personal combat, that he would accept the challenge, if he could have the choice of weapon.

President Woodruff took the in-your-face approach. His choice of weapon turned out to be a banana cream pie, and the resulting pie-throwing contest drew national, if not international, attention. While it was not adopted by the great powers as a means of settling their disagreements, though it perhaps should have been, it brought much good will and good publicity for the University at a time when colleges were seen by many older adults as humorless establishments giving free rein to radicalism and anarchy. The University was also the institution where a group of enterprising engineering students, taking advantage of certain weaknesses in established bureaucratic operations, succeeded in enrolling, for a brief time to be sure, a compliant basset hound, registered as Leo D. Canine, whose mournful face stared out from newspapers all across the United States and who participated with enthusiasm in receptions for new students.

But President Woodruff's more enduring legacy, in addition to the buildings he built and the programs he launched, was the consolidation of the University, in a single location and with facilities to match, as a comprehensive, residential institution drawing students from throughout the region. It was he who engineered a new and active relationship with the larger community, paying careful attention to cooperation with the public schools of the area, and establishing the Construction Institute, to work with architects, engineers, and builders throughout the state, and numerous other professional cooperative ventures. During his time, a higher education consortium was established in the Greater Hartford area, and the exchange of students among institutions began for programs not offered on their home campuses. Such free exchange continues today, with numbers of students from Trinity College, St. Joseph College, and the University taking advantage of it. No money changes hands in these arrangements, each institution willing to live with a reasonable balance of payments.

In 1977, President Woodruff announced his retirement, and the Board of Regents, looking to enlarge the University's reputation and scope to become national, if not international, in character, chose as third president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Trachtenberg, a dean in President John Silber's unorthodox but effective administration at Boston University, was a graduate of Yale Law School, with an undergraduate degree from Columbia and a master's in public administration from Harvard. His career combined Washington experience, as assistant to then-congressman John Brademas, with teaching, and with a deep understanding of education and its role in American society. Tutored by Silber, who brought Boston University from urban obscurity to national prominence, and by Brademas, who was to do the same for New York University, Trachtenberg, a New Yorker who could never be mistaken for a Yankee, was in many respects an ideal choice for the young University of Hartford.

more> Chapter 4