Backtracking: In Our Times: Shedding Oneonta's ‘party school’ image gained momentum in 1995

Mark SimonsonA 2006 view of the SUNY Oneonta campus shows students passing between classes near the Netzer Administration and Fine Arts buildings.


The State University College at Oneonta was having some poor image issues in the mid-1990s, one in particular being a surge in academic probation and dismissals. In 1995, a mission began to change this trend as well as away from being a “party school.”

A reported in The Daily Star on Feb. 9, combined rates of probation and dismissal had jumped from near 33 percent to 42 percent of freshmen at the college from 1993 to 1994, respectively.

Students in the article who spoke with The Star summed up the student failures at the college as “not conducive to study.”

“That’s an image faculty members have been trying to shake for years. Now they see the administration’s efforts to weed out the dead weight as a positive step.

“‘I’m encouraged by the administrative message that is going out and I think part of it is reflected in the number of students who were dismissed or put on probation,’ said Earth Sciences Department Chairman P. Jay Fleischer. ‘I think we have to bite the bullet and continue to maintain standards and the students who thought of Oneonta as the place to party and drift along may be dissuaded from coming here.’”

The move away from the party school image went beyond academics to off campus that year, as well.

Star readers of March 16 learned, “Shape up or ship out. That’s the message State University College at Oneonta Council members wanted students to get last year when they approved a new policy holding students accountable for their off-campus behavior.

“‘According to what I hear from the students I interact with, it’s very much a deterrent,’ said city police Detective Sgt. Carl J. Shedlock. ‘They hate it — we love it.’

“Now, when police arrest SUCO students for being involved in, say, a late night brawl on Main Street, they tell them they’ll be notifying college officials — often to the students’ dismay.

“‘They actually turn white,’ Shedlock said. ‘They’ll do anything rather than have that happen. It really gets their attention.’

Some city residents applauded the effort, but others wanted even tougher penalties for poorly behaving college students in the city, and not just at SUNY Oneonta.

As The Star reported on June 1, “A new community group, called Save Our City, wants more foot patrols in downtown Oneonta, a tougher court and earlier closing hours for bars.

“James F. Lettis, organizer of the newly forming Save Our City, said Oneonta’s reputation must change from ‘party town,’ to ‘tough law enforcement town,’ where police and the courts put teeth into the laws and city streets are safe.” Lettis had many years of dealing with college students, as he was the mayor of the city through the 1970s and early '80s.

As students were preparing to return for the fall semester, The Star reported on Aug. 16, “City officials will try to rub out Oneonta’s party town image by reducing the amount of people allowed in bars, monitoring keg sales and enforcing underage drinking laws.”

Students returned, and according to The Star of Aug. 30, “Since Saturday, city police have broken up at lest three parties and have confiscated nine beer kegs.

“Meanwhile, students at 23 Market St are outraged police went into their apartment uninvited, searched the premises, shined flashlights in their faces and broke up the party.

 “Bottom line, this is our privacy,” said one student, while another added, “They have no right … Oneonta’s out to make us have a bad time. This is college. People want to party and have a good time.”

The policy changes apparently were making a difference, as The Star told on Aug. 31 how, “Despite a hefty increase in tuition this year … Oneonta was one of eight SUNY Campuses included in Money magazine’s annual list of the best 100 college buys in the country.

“College officials were trumpeting the institution’s inclusion as recognition of changes they’ve been making in recent years. They included the rewriting the core curriculum, faculty development, awarding more scholarships and adoption of a student code of conduct that extends to off-campus behavior.”

A corner was beginning to be turned.

This weekend: Dealing with a fuel scare locally in February 1945.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at

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