Historical echoes, part 3

Sun 26 Apr 2009 06:31 PM

This is the third part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I and part II.

Leue mentions offhand that the philosopher of science John Winnie got his undergrad degree from UAlbany. For some reason, I like this bit of trivia.

In this installment, Leue provides a poem from Old Bill - a pseudonymous poet who wrote in an underground student newspaper. The poem describes UAlbany's move from its original downtown campus to the then-new uptown campus as Cinderella's change from drudge to belle of the ball. Leue had already used the metaphor when he suggested that we might, in thinking about the history of the department, come across "shreds of pumpkin" (in part I).

Leue includes further poems by Old Bill in later installments. Although it took me several readings to catch on, it is obvious that Old Bill is Leue himself. He was William, after all, and an older contributor than the students who (one presumes) were running the paper.

This installment is from Phib v 1 (1972-1973), n 14, pp 58-60.


By the beginning of the academic year 1961-1962 there were three full time members of the Philosophy Department, but as yet we were only a "service department," there being no officially established degree in philosophy. Considering our status however, we had a remarkably rich and diversified program. I recall giving a graduate level seminar in philosophy during this year, which was my first year here. There were six students in it, and they were a pretty group. One of them, John Winnie, went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota, and he read us a paper a couple of years ago when he was on his way from the University of Hawaii, where he had been teaching philosophy for several years, to Indiana University to take an appointment as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy.

I can recall some good things which I encountered during my first early years here but which seen to have been lost in more recent times. There was a kind of easy intimacy among the faculty - one met casually with colleagues in different fields, and these contacts were often mutually stimulating. Perhaps the existence of a dark little basement room called the "Faculty Dining Room" had something to do with it. People were always dropping in there for lunch or for a mid-morning or afternoon break. Even the President sometimes joined the casual conversational groups that happened there.

And then there was the "Upper Hudson Valley Floating Philosophy Seminar," a group made up of the people interested in philosophy in many of the area schools. We met and read papers to each other on various campuses - I can recall meetings at Union, RPI, Saint Rose, and Siena - and in those more financially relaxed days the host institution could usually be persuaded to treat a bunch of wandering philosophers to a free dinner.

Our department and its sphere of activities grew quickly, as did the whole "College." Indeed, in the summer of 62, that word, and others that went with it were dropped from our official name, and we became simply "The State University of New York at Albany." Our mission was also changing rapidly. The decision to move the main campus out to its present location seems to have been made in late 60 and early 61. The State College News carries the story in its issue for December 16, 1960 and the Knick. News discusses it as part of its coverage of the overall expansion of the State University in its issue of Wednesday, January 18th, 1961. At first, however, the plans that were being developed called for quite a different institution - still a rather small college with small buildings scattered all over the country club site so as to preserve its contours and tree cover. The monumental stone was first revealed in the December of 1961. I got in on a preview of it as a sort of delegate of the Department. It turned out, however, and as many of us now realize, that even this plan, which envisioned a tightly integrated institution of about ten thousand people, was not adequate for the constantly being expanded mission which was being framed for us in those days.

At first, the Philosophy Department was squeezed into two narrow offices adjoing the "Men's" and "Women's" rooms on the back corridor of the first floor of Draper Hall. As the institution moved out to more and more rented quarters in the surrounding area, we stayed behind and inherited better quarters - two offices on the second floor cross corridor with east-facing windows.

Our group increased. John Riser joined us in 62 and stayed till 66. Warder Cadbury joined us in 63, and Bob Garvin, in 64, and of course they are still with us. For a couple of years Grimes, Garvin, Riser, and I shared one large office, and we even had room for a table and chairs for small group meetings in the middle.

Other members of faculty occasionally helped us. Erich Nussbaum, in Mathematics, taught a couple of courses in Plato, and our most long-standing adjunctive member of the Department was Mark Berger of the Foundations of Education.

Our program expanded. In the spring of 63 we worked out our undergraduate majors program, and it went into effect in the fall of that year. From the beginning it had some features which still characterize it, particularly the designation of three "course areas" in order to encourage both some breadth and some concentration in the undergraduate major's program. Our MA program became operative in the fall of 65, and we immediately had a number of candidates.

The University as a whole was growing even faster than was our department. Over a period of four years, 61-65, the faculty about trebled in site, and the plan of organization had become vastly more complicated. We now had layer on layer of divisions and schools and deans and vice presidents in settled ranks assembled. It was during this period that the University reached out for usable space all over that part of town. The Presbyterian church on the corner of western and Lake ( how cold was my 8 o'clock class in its dark sanctuary!), the synagogue and the Unitarian church across Washington Avenue, the Department of Canals building on Washington at Dove, the Detroit Supply Co. and another warehouse on Central Avenue, a store that had recently housed "Babyland." We all got used to a good deal of trudging through the winter snows. Still, it was sort of cozy and rather European - this urban academic environment among the town houses and the fruit stands. At least we weren't isolated from the community.

I recently ran across a copy of Suppression, an "underground" student publication that constituted one of the livelier organs of expression of spontaneous opinions around here for a number of years. This issue was put out sometime during 1965, and it carried the following cautionary poem someone who signs himself "Old Bill."


Cinderella, wait!

Before you put on that silken gown,

The diamond tiara,

The crystal slippers,

And before you set foot in the transmuted pumpkin

and are whisked away to the alabaster palace:


Of this humble hovel,

With its cozy, accustomed grime.


Your modest merit shone through the ashes,

Unrecognized but untried,

Aspiration gave direction,

And hope supported you.

From others might come compassion,

And maybe even muted recognition.


Your new splendor must be worn

With anxious care,

Be daily tried and challenged

In ways unsure by standards unknown;

And envious eyes will harshly judge

The same old you beneath the gloss.

Ready or not, the time for the expensive move to the new campus, and the new mission as one of the "Empire State's" four "University Centers," had come.