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Chapter 4

Blessed with indefatigable energy and a keen eye for publicity, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg set about his responsibilities with vigor. He gave particular attention to the physical expansion of the campus. One year after he arrived, Lincoln Theater was dedicated. The following year, 1979, United Technologies Hall, housing the College of Engineering, was opened. The Auerbach Computer and Administration Center followed in 1983, the Konover Campus Center in 1985, the new Operations and Maintenance Building in 1986, and the Sculpture Annex, for the Hartford Art School, in the same year. Sometimes the funding arrangements for these buildings took original and unusual forms. The Administration Center, for example, was owned not by the University but by a consortium of corporations. The University rented the building from the consortium, and a further arrangement with the town of West Hartford, within whose jurisdiction the building was situated, provided, and indeed continues to provide, scholarships at the University for West Hartford residents in lieu of taxes.

President Trachtenberg was as deeply committed to the academic and teaching side of the University as he was to its physical and financial development. He strengthened the requirements for both teaching and research credentials for faculty members and oversaw the development, and implementation, in 1987, of the All-University Curriculum, the University's most admired and emulated cross-disciplinary learning program and the undergraduate program that has probably had the most decisive effect on the current learning environment at the University. This program, as the University's undergraduate bulletin puts it, provides shared learning experiences for students in baccalaureate programs across the University through "a core of common studies."

"Since faculty from all schools and colleges of the University teach these courses," the catalog description goes on, "the curriculum takes full advantage of the diverse resources of the institution. In addition to providing students breadth of knowledge in their liberal education, the All-University Curriculum makes clear the relationships among disciplinary areas of knowledge through integrative, cross-disciplinary courses. These courses also emphasize the development of written and oral communication, critical thinking and problem solving, values identification and independent decision making, social interaction, and responsibility for civic life."

The development of the program was a University-wide effort, involving not only the faculty and administration but also the Regents, notably Donald Davis, CEO of The Stanley Works, and Judge Jon Newman, board chair. A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided the financing for curriculum planning and start-up costs. Today, the program has a national reputation among general education programs and has many imitators at institutions across the country. Its organization around cross-disciplinary teams of faculty members has helped build intellectual bridges across the disciplines and brought professors together around common interests and concerns.

President Trachtenberg also oversaw the launching of the doctoral program in psychology, focused on the practical needs of professional psychologists. He was instrumental in launching what was to prove a highly successful MBA program in Paris by the Barney School of Business and Public Administration, and a scholarship program for University of Hartford students at Hertford College of Oxford University. The Oxford program still continues, and has expanded into a range of cooperative activities and exchanges. During his tenure, the groundwork was laid for the University's expansion into health-related fields, and these programs were brought together with the education curriculum to form the College of Education, Nursing, and Health Professions.

His fundraising efforts were impressive. A capital campaign whose original goal was $30 million, came in at twice that amount. Friends of the University rallied around his leadership to endow chairs and to support scholarships. The Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies began in April 1985, thanks to a substantial gift from Arnold Greenberg of West Hartford, with an endowed professorship as its key ingredient. The Center offers courses and conducts research, and its public outreach program continues to bring intellectual luster to the University and a vast array of programs to the community. Also established during the Trachtenberg presidency was the Vernon Roosa Chair in Manufacturing Engineering, which gave major impetus to the Engineering Applications Center, a program providing research and development support to local corporations.

As the programs of the University changed, student demographics were changing too. Although these new, highly visible programs helped establish a national reputation for the University, a large part of the student body remained local and nonresidential, and the University offered programs for them not just during the day but in the evenings as well. The University of Hartford has always been friendly to the nonconventional student, and many made their way to the campus for evening courses. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, however, the geographical range of applicants expanded, and the University's attention shifted from the education of part-time students to the accommodation of traditional full-time college students.

As early as 1977, the Regents Task Force on the Future of the University of Hartford, presenting its Five-Year Plan, pointed out that "the University has become a regional institution, with two-thirds of the entering freshmen and over fifty percent of its full-time student body coming from outside Connecticut." "At first thought," the Task Force added, "this may be disconcerting to those who envisioned the University as a local institution, but the Task Force concludes that wider geographical representation not only improves the quality of education for local students, but adds greatly to the prestige of the community." Indeed a special push was made in the direction of full-time studies in the course of the 1980s, at a time when many other institutions were diversifying in the direction of the part-time and older student. It was felt, probably correctly, that the University could only survive and prosper with an adequate number of full-time, tuition-paying students to support its programs and activities.

But there was nowhere to put these students. The University acquired property on Asylum Avenue, across from St. Francis Hospital, to house residential students whom it could not accommodate on campus. Others had to find accommodation in the community, where rents were high, driven up by a strong economy, and quality was often quite low. This severe housing shortage led to plans to expand the on-campus population significantly. These plans resulted in the building of the Village Apartments, completed in 1984, the work of renowned architect Cesar Pelli -- followed by Regents Park, opened in 1988 and 1989, and the Park River Apartments in 1989. By the time the process was complete, the majority of full-time undergraduates were housed on campus, the University was out from under its obligations on Asylum Avenue, and the character and geographical origins of the student population had changed markedly as students arrived from California and Florida and all across the world. The student residences were funded not by gifts but primarily through bond issues, to be paid through room rents, a prospect that looked manageable in the boom of the late 1980s when students could be recruited in large numbers, but became more difficult to handle as recession hit in the early 1990s.

Given the demographics of the 1990s, when the college-age population in the Northeast dropped sharply and when competition among colleges intensified, there is no doubt that the decision to build additional student residences in the 1980s was the right decision: it opened up the institution to students from around the country and around the world, offsetting the effects of local declines. However, the financing of such a huge undertaking was a problem. This and the various other building projects of the era, several of them associated with the University's decision to concentrate its energies on full-time undergraduates, ate up much of the money that the energetic President Trachtenberg succeeded in raising, and pushed the University's borrowing to the limit. While the facilities helped the institution weather the storms of recession in the 1990s, the resulting lack of financial flexibility severely limited its ability to react to environmental changes.

The most ambitious of Stephen Trachtenberg's building projects was the University Center, ultimately renamed the Harry Jack Gray Center. It began as a plan to expand the Mortensen Library by pushing out the back wall and extending it, but as the plans progressed, numerous other facilities were housed within an expanded structure. A home was provided for the University's extensive music library, to be moved over from the top floor of the Fuller Center, while the science library was to be transferred from Dana Hall and consolidated with the Mortensen collection in the main library, and special space was also to be provided for the art library. The wing containing the music library was also to hold additional studio space for the Hartford Art School, a television studio in the basement, new quarters for the University's public radio station WWUH, and an auditorium. A wing to the west, consisting of two floors, had space for a new bookstore, a new Joseloff Gallery, and the Museum of American Political Life.

The Museum of American Political Life is one of the unsung wonders of the University of Hartford. It takes its origins in a collection of presidential campaign memorabilia given to the University by J. Doyle DeWitt, president of the Travelers Insurance Company, who spent a lifetime scouring the country for every scrap of material relating to presidential campaigns and the presidency in general, from the very beginnings of the republic. For years these materials were stored in boxes at the ASK House, lovingly cared for by Professor Edmund Sullivan, their curator. President Trachtenberg had the brilliant idea of seeking federal funding to house them properly and to combine that funding with other resources gathered for the University Center. He enlisted the support of the Connecticut congressional delegation, led by Senators Lowell Weicker and Christopher Dodd and by the University's able congresswoman Representative Barbara Kennelly, and was successful in securing the funding needed to build the present exhibition hall and adjacent offices and archive space. The museum now houses an unparalleled collection of more than 60,000 artifacts -- posters, banners, textiles, prints, medals, fine pottery, glassware, snuffboxes, ribbons, torches, photographs, cartoons, and all kinds of ephemera, such as buttons, mugs, and leaflets. Also included is an extensive collection of television commercials and film footage. The collection continues to expand through gifts and acquisitions of significant visual and archival materials.

Federal money for the University Center was combined with a number of other gifts, among them a significant grant for a gallery from the Joseloff Foundation. The University's bookstore concession was in the hands of the Follett Company of Chicago, and they provided generous funding for their new quarters. But the hunt was on for new resources as the building program continued apace and as the institution welcomed students from around the world in increasing numbers.

President Trachtenberg also recognized the public relations value of athletics for a new institution seeking national visibility. Sports, especially basketball, had been popular at Hillyer College long before the merger that created the University of Hartford, and the Hawk as the University mascot dates from that period. There are stories of exciting basketball games in cramped quarters at the top of the main building occupied by Hillyer College on Hudson Street, and even in the early days of the University, the only changing facilities available to athletes were their cars and the washrooms in academic buildings. But that altered over the years, though the University rapidly outgrew the small gymnasium, called "the Hawk's Nest," at the top of Hudson Hall. In 1984, in a move that required a leap of faith of positively Olympic proportions, the sports programs shifted from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I. The resulting increase in visibility and publicity has had very beneficial effects not only on the athletic program and school spirit, but also in spreading the name of the University of Hartford far beyond Connecticut and New England, not least as a result of the reputations of such notables as baseball player Jeff Bagwell and basketball star Vin Baker.

Space was needed for this new Division I program, and so plans were launched to expand the old gymnasium into a large sports center, with Olympic pool, basketball arena, racquetball and squash courts, and exercise room. This building, along with a number of others, was still under construction when President Trachtenberg announced his departure to take on the presidency of George Washington University. He was succeeded in 1988 on an interim basis by Hartzel Lebed, a retired insurance company executive whom the Regents were able to convince to take on the job while a search for a successor was launched under the direction of retiring board chair Stillman Brown. Hank Lebed, a former Regent of the University, who had retired as CEO of the CIGNA Corporation, was as low-key as his predecessor had been flamboyant. His open-door policy of communication quickly established rapport with all constituencies of the University, especially students and faculty, whose relations with the administration had become somewhat frayed in the final frenetic years of the Trachtenberg presidency -- a presidency that had put the University of Hartford on the map, decisively transforming the institution from a limited regional presence to one of national visibility and stature.

more> Chapter 5 — Section I