By Benjamin Engle
An institution with a history as long as Union’s is bound to make mistakes during its first 216 years. Through the years, the college has taken corrective steps, which instantly improved the institution and created foundations for the future.
Through the years, however, Union’s administration has made questionable decisions that later generations needed to correct.
Could you imagine Union without a geology department? Because the college was unwilling to adjust the geology curriculum during the 1960s, students were leaving the program and Union’s administration let the geology department die a slow death. Union’s geology department was reestablished as recently as 1985 through a generous donation from one of Union’s most important families, the Wolds. Today, the geology department is one of Union’s strongest programs.
Can you imagine if Union never sold the properties east of Lenox Road, also known as the GE Reality Plot, the properties along Union Avenue, Seward Place and Nott Street? According to Wayne Somers’s Encyclopedia of Union College, Union’s campus was originally made up of 300 acres, though today it measures approximately 100 acres. During the Roger Hull administration in the 1990s, the college reacquired the Seward homes, known today as the Seward and Roger Hull apartments.
While prior Union administrations corrected mistakes of previous generations, President Stephen Ainlay’s administration continues to correct past mistakes. Union’s acquisition of the 897 St. David’s Lane property in Niskayuna corrects the mistake of selling the Girling Center property in Niskayuna. The college sold the Girling Center, which was used for retreats and social functions, in 1990.
Even though Union has corrected many of the mistakes of previous administrations, there are still opportunities for further improvements. Hull, Union’s 17th president, rescued and refreshed a college and its city during the 1990s by building and refurbishing buildings and developing plans, such as Schenectady 2000. We can attest our beautiful Seward apartments, College Park Hall, F.W. Olin Center, Schaffer Library expansion and Division I Ice Hockey to Hull. Unfortunately, however, in 2001, the Board of Trustees voted to restructure the engineering department and, in doing so, the phasing out of the civil engineering department, a department which produced famous civil engineers such as Squire Whipple, class of 1830, (you have crossed his revolutionary bridge on your way to frat row) and Solomon Deyo, class of 1870, the engineer in charge of New York City’s first subway.
In 2011, Union continues to expand and bring diverse programs, students, and clubs to its campus. Union can create more diverse programming by reestablishing the civil engineering department. Personally, I was only 11 when the Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the program, though as Union approaches the 10th anniversary of its decision this coming October, the campus still feels the affects.
The world has changed considerably in the past ten years. We currently live in a world of peak oil, $4 a gallon gasoline and LEED standards. Union currently prides itself on its sustainability efforts to make the campus greener. It prides itself on being a liberal arts school with an excellent engineering department. Union also prides itself in preparing its students for the world outside of Schenectady. However, if Union is to compete with other schools of higher education, the Board of Trustees should consider reestablishing a department that is in high demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers defines civil engineering as “the design and maintenance of public works such as roads, bridges, water and energy systems as well as public facilities like ports, railways and airports.” The need for civil engineers will only increase as more national infrastructure projects are developed and potentially funded by a national infrastructure bank.
Reestablishing the civil engineering department at Union would be beneficial to many current departments including, but not limited to, the environmental science, energy studies and geology departments, nor would it be difficult to reinstate. When Union’s Board of Trustees discontinued the department in 2001, it was ranked 8th in the United States. Additionally, many professors involved in the department ten years ago are still at Union.
We would not have to look far to see how a reestablished civil engineering department would impact society. While reestablishing civil engineering is not a new idea, it is a program that is always relevant. The United States is currently undergoing its greatest improvement of its infrastructure since the 1950s. There is a high demand for civil engineers—just look at Schenectady’s crumbling roads; we could use a few civil engineers to reconstruct Seward Place.