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A LOOK BACK: Higher Education

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By Derek M. Otto

A recent visit to the Lucy Bensley Center in Springville had me thinking about a unique bust that is on one of the book cases there.  It’s not of anyone internationally renowned, like the other one they have of Ben Franklin.  This bust is of David Cochran, the son of Samuel Cochran.  Why is there a bust of Mr. Cochran?

After he left Springville, he pursued an educational career first at Fredonia Normal School and then at Albany Normal School.  It was there he ended up in administration and became the school’s president.  A few years later, he took the position of President of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which today is known as NYU. It is always nice to have a Springville connection in something prominent as the president of NYU.

At one point, Springville was going to be the premier spot for higher education, internationally. With college starting in a few weeks for many, it is interesting that at one point Springville was chosen as the spot for World University by the International Institute Foundation. It was announced in September 1963 that 2,000 acres were going to be purchased and developed into World University right here in the Town of Concord.   

The concept was that students would work directly toward a Master’s Degree in nuclear physics, international affairs or any field that would require international connections. Students would spend years 1 and 3 in Springville and year 2 and 4 at another campus in Switzerland.  The student body would be composed mainly of American students, but draw about 30 percent from the rest of the world. The state of the art campus was to have closed circuit color televisions in each of the dorm rooms as to which students could watch course-related work.  An audio system allowed students to directly tune into course lectures and music.  This was state of the art for 1963.

The campus was to bring 100 new homes to the area.  In addition, the new campus would bring in over $1.4 million in local payroll with university-related personnel.  In addition, it would also hire local people: a doctor, five nurses, 65 secretaries, 15 kitchen staff, 40 dormitory maids, 20 janitors, 12 grounds and building people.  This promised to be a payroll of $650,000!   

This was a legitimate plan the board was composed of industry leaders in Buffalo and Dr. Warren Hickman, Dean of the Arts and Sciences at Ithaca College, served as the chairman of the foundation of the board.  Hickman prophesized that “graduates from this university concept would be sitting across from each at the United Nations!”

For the next several months, a campaign was on the way to raise the needed money to bring World University to Springville.  Initially, it was said that $664,000 would be needed by Dec. 30, 1963; $500,000 would be escrowed in State University of New York system, with the remaining money providing resources to the campaign to start the university.  It was a great campaign locally—many of Springville’s businessmen and their wives worked diligently to raise the money for the World University.

Sadly, in the middle of February 1964, the International Institute Foundation announced that it was abandoning the “project for University for World Study at Springville NY.”  Dr. Hickman stated that, “We cannot praise too highly the complete support accorded the university by civic, political and religious leaders of Erie County.”  He furthered this by saying, “Far-sighted members of the business and financial community of Springville and some of the south towns joined in this expression of confidence.”  Residents in Springville raised nearly $100,000 (1964 dollars) in a few short months.

Initially, when I began to research this topic, some said to me “Oh that, the village fathers did want Springville to become a college town.”  That is not necessarily the case; it’s actually quite the opposite.  Springville raised the money and worked hard to get the university to come here.  “It was that the overall financial support of Western New York is not to be found,” stated Hickman as the decision to drop the project.  The foundation could not find suitable matches for the money raised in Springville and actually, there was a lot of opposition to the project from Buffalo.  The SUNY system didn’t want the college in Springville.   

A few years later, it was announced the SUNY would be building the north campus of the University at Buffalo. That’s right—Concord could look more like Amherst and Williamsville.  So as many kids prepare the next few weeks to start their college life, just remember you could have gone to World University right here in Springville.

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