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April 7, 2014

Proposed change to Delaware County Community College rejected in 1959

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The Daily Star

---- — The State University Agricultural and Technical Institute at Delhi, as it was called in 1959, could have had a new name in the early months of that year —Delaware County Community College. The idea was studied during the winter months, but by spring, local lawmakers had given the idea a thumbs-down.

“Possible changes in the structure of the state’s six agricultural and technical colleges to transform them into County Community Colleges is under consideration, it was disclosed yesterday,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star of Tuesday, Jan. 6, 1959.

The Delaware County Board of Supervisors, at the request of the State University College Board of Trustees, named a special committee to discuss the proposal.

Dr. William J. Kunsela, then president of the college, said the idea was only under discussion, and would require legislative action to make the name change. He explained that the move could make the six agricultural schools similar to 14 other community colleges, permitting a broader program, although each would continue to give associate degrees, rather than bachelor degrees.

“The principal factors considered in the proposal are financial,” the Star reported. “At present, the institutes receive their entire support and capital construction funds from the state.

“If the change is made by the Legislature, operational expenses would be divided, probably on the ratio of one-third from the state, one-third from the county and one-third from student tuition. Capital construction costs would be divided between state and county on a 50-50 basis.”

If the change to a community college was to happen in 1959, the legislative action had to be completed before the state budget deadline for adoption, April 1.

The study and discussion of the change was rather quiet until the Star reported on Tuesday, March 24, “A bill to let Delhi State Ag & Tech Institute convert into a community college yesterday caused a furor of political activity in Albany and Delaware County.”

The State University introduced a bill on Monday to the state Senate and Assembly to let Delhi convert. “It would guarantee $3,500,000 worth of new campus buildings.”

It was also reported that five of the other Agricultural and Technical schools, after study of the proposed change, had encountered opposition and asked to drop out of the SUNY proposal.

Assemblyman Edwyn E. Mason (R-Hobart) said he hadn’t been consulted about the proposed change. “He termed the bill hasty, and urged a county-wide public referendum,” the Star said.

Mason took a survey of 17 of 19 Delaware County supervisors he could contact by phone. Mason said two were for the change, 15 opposed to action now.

“In a thing as important as this,” Mason said, “I think there ought to be a referendum so the people could vote on it. We don’t want this railroaded through in the dark. I am not against the bill, but I think the people ought to be given time to study what it means.”

G. Frank Slawson, Chairman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors said, “I gather that this is the first step to do away with all free tuition in all units of the State University system. But whether this bill goes through or not, I think that’s coming.

“I’ve had a feeling for a long while that our education department has got in such a mess…it’s costing so much more than they anticipated…that they’re trying to unload some of it on the back of the communities, and load tuition back on the students.”

The voters in Delaware County never had the chance to vote on the change, and the community college status was never achieved, as the proposal was sent back to an Assembly committee in Albany, and never brought before the state Legislature. Members of the Assembly were unable to determine who the sponsor of the proposal had been in the first place.

Mason declared that there were “forces at work” to make all state colleges into tuition-paying institutions, including state teachers colleges. He pointed out that these have traditionally been tuition-free, and that requiring tuition would put a bar to many furthering their education.

“I and my parents were far too poor,” Mason said, “to pay tuition and I went to a State Teachers College. I regard the tuition free colleges with great veneration.”

After the attempted change to make Delhi a community college, the SUNY Board of Trustees denied charges that the plans were kept secret.

This weekend: Oneonta had a “Dress Up Week” in April 1919.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.