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Saving the state teachers college

Paul Chandler
Paul G. Chandler
Dr. Paul Gladstone Chandler , the son of an itinerant Methodist preacher, arrived in Clarion as the nation was emerging from the doldrums of the depression. Chandler was educated at Kentucky Wesleyan College and Columbia University, experienced as a public school teacher, private school principal and proprietor, and college professor at Kent State University and Millersville State Teachers College. He led Clarion toward great heights during his 23 years as president.

As he took over leadership of Clarion, he knew the challenges facing and survival was paramount. Economic conditions improved slightly early in his tenure. Enrollment rose from 193 in 1936 to 307 in 1940. Appropriations also rose from $66,500 to $90,000 during the same period. Since Clarion opened its doors April 12, 1887, the school ranked lowest in opening fall enrollment of the thirteen State Teachers Colleges for Caucasian students. In 1939 it rose to twelfth place and in subsequent years it moved even higher in position.

In spite of these encouraging developments recovery was difficult to achieve. Chandler stated in an interview that Clarion was "the poor man's college and they were treated as such by the Legislature, being given as little money as was possible and still let them exist." "In those days," continued Dr. Chandler "the state allowed 21 cents per person per meal in the college dining hall. Twelve cents of this was to pay wages. The meal was adequate for the girls but most of the males left the table hungry."

In an effort to induce more students to enroll at the State Teachers College, authorization was granted in 1937 to offer the first two years of a liberal arts curriculum. That same year saw the efforts of Riemer and Chandler to secure a special curriculum bear fruit with the designated as the library science school for the western third of Pennsylvania. In 1960, Chandler's last year as president, the Commonwealth approved college status for Clarion and her sister institutions. The name change allowed a four year liberal arts course to be offered. 

A newly formed Commonwealth Public Works Administration, looking at the 1936 fire inspector's report, granted Clarion received three new buildings: a laundry, Davis Hall, and Egbert Hall. The planning of Egbert Hall, a men's residence hall, was typical shortsighted planning in which new buildings war often outmoded or inadequate shortly after completion. When Egbert Hall was being planned, the college needed living accommodations for 42 men and the state designed the building to house exactly that many students. Egbert Hall proved inadequate after a few years and students were once again living in the same fire hazards, the third floor of both Seminary and Science Hall.

The war years reach Clarion

Ominous war clouds were gathering in Ethiopia, China, and Europe and would soon cast a shadow on Clarion State College.  Enrollment reached 307 in 1940 as the grey clouds of the depression years dissipated.  Hard times were coming back.

The passage of a Selective Service Act in September 1940, the military buildup, and the increased needs of a retooling American industry placed great demands upon the manpower pool. The result was a downward enrollment trend greater in scope than that of the depression. In September 1941, 18 year-olds were made eligible for the draft. By February 1942, able-bodied males became nearly extinct at the "college on the hill".

Fully recognizing the plight of the teachers colleges and aware of the value of their facilities for wartime utilization, the 1941 State Legislature amended the School Code (Sect. 2002.1) thereby granting the right to "... cooperate with municipal, State, Federal or other agencies in the furtherance of national defense programs and activities...." The enactment was bit mandatory, but did signal Chandler's intensive efforts to secure a federal training program for Clarion and thus stave off disaster. Pursuit of the program involved long, strenuous, frustrating, and sometimes seemingly futile effort. The first program, for 22 men, was organized in September 1942 to train airplane and glider pilots. A more profitable venture began the following February when three hundred Air Force Cadets arrived on campus for four months training. Dr. Chandler related how this brought prosperity of two types to Clarion. "The government paid well for the training received by the Cadets. This carried us through those very strenuous financial times and nineteen Clarion girls found mates from among the trainees." Similar groups of cadets arrived on campus every four months until the program was phased out in May 1943.

Throughout the War years, as during the depression, the state teachers colleges were hard pressed to forestall action by state agencies to close all or some of them. Early in 1943 Governor Martin proposed to lease or sell the colleges to the federal government and later the same year Dr. Francis Haas, Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced plans to close six to eight of the State Teachers Colleges after the war. Once again, such plans were successfully opposed. Typical of the evidence amassed in the renewed battle to save the state teachers colleges was this example from The State Teachers Colleges of Pennsylvania, a publication of the Alumni of the State Teachers Colleges.

"In view of the suggestion that some of the teachers colleges should be closed, it is interesting to note that Pennsylvania stands thirty-sixth among the 48 states and the District of Columbia in the number of teachers colleges which it supports per unit of population," states the publication. "It may be said that this is due to the large number of private and denominational colleges in Pennsylvania, but our State stands thirteenth in the number of degree-granting institutions other than teachers colleges per unit of population. Thus Pennsylvania, the second wealthiest state, is actually ill-provided with institutions of higher learning and stands thirty-third in the total appropriation for teachers colleges per unit of population."

Chandler brings academic respectability

Although crises kept intruding during the two decades of turmoil from 1930 to 1950, the period was a time of continuing thoughtful inquiry and soul-searching into the philosophy, organization, structure, and operation of the educational program. These efforts resulted in the primary achievement of the Chandler administration, academic respectability. In 1948 Clarion was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The accreditation was vital because it implied that Clarion's course offerings were now of collegiate quality in name as well as in fact.

In addition to Clarion's gains in academic prominence under Dr. Chandler was its national recognition for accomplishments in athletics. During the 1950-1951 basketball season the team, under the guidance of coach Benton Kribbs, compiled a 15-2 record. This was a complete reversal of the previous season's record and as a result it was acclaimed the most improved basketball team in the nation according to the Dick Dunkle ratings of the Associated Press. It would seem impossible to improve upon this record, but the following season the squad went undefeated through nineteen games before losing in the first round of the NAIA championships at Kansas City. During the summer of 1952, Kribbs, also football coach, resigned to become coach at Bucknell University. In the fall Waldo Tippin and Thomas Carnahan became co-coaches of the football squad and led it through an undefeated season capped by a victory over East Carolina in the Lion's Bowl.

Efforts to relieve crowded residence hall conditions and to halt the use of the upper floors of Seminary and Science Hall as living quarters resulted in the construction of two new dormitories during the 1950's. Ballentine Hall, with accommodations for 115 men, was completed in 1951. Givan Hall, a residence hall for 250 women, was completed in 1960. This construction satisfied one of the recommendations of the 1925 Pinchot Report.

After the Korean conflict a new wave of veterans swelled college student bodies throughout the nation. New prosperity and problems emerged and continue to develop. These developments were reflected in steadily climbing enrollment and campus expansion.

Chandler reached retirement age in 1960 and left the institution September 1 after 33 years of service to the Commonwealth. His administration reflected the ups and downs of the depression, World War II, and the Korean War. Despite these exigencies, enrollment increased from 193 in 1936-1937 to 1099 in 1959-1960 and the state allocation increased from $66,500 to almost $500,000 during the span of time. More significant and important was the improvement in the educational program which resulted in accreditation.

Great as the Chandler achievements were, even greater things were to come as a result of Legislative Act 788 signed by Governor Lawrence on Jan. 8, 1960. This enactment signed during the twilight of Chandler's term, enabled the State Teachers Colleges to retitle themselves State Colleges. The change opened the door to many developments which Chandler would have considered fantastic in 1937 when he took office.

It remained for his successor, Dr. James Gemmell, to chart an expanded and maturing period of growth.