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Trials and tribulations

G.L. Riemer
 G.L. Riemer

On May 28, 1929, when Clarion became a college and Dr. G.L. Riemer became its president, the nation was in the midst of an unparalleled economic boom. In a span of five short months the depression set in. On Oct. 24, 1929, "Black Thursday," total panic seized the stock market and by October 29 the bottom had dropped out of it. This set off intricate forces that interacted to carry the United States into the depths of industrial and financial stagnation. Early that fateful October the value of stocks on the New York Exchange totaled $87 billion. By March of 1933 they had declined by 78 per cent to $19 billion. Education does not operate outside the pale of society, but rather is influenced by and influences society. The depression had profound effects upon state appropriations and student enrollment at

Clarion.The change to a State Teachers College had been slow and evolutionary, as was the process of attaining academic respectability. This process was carried on during the bleakest hours of the "Great Depression" and a World War, sometimes in the face of active opposition from entrenched private colleges fearful that their own vested interests would suffer from the growth of this phase of public education.

When Dr. Riemer became president he found a campus covering some 25 acres, ten buildings whose total value approached $800,000, and a school plant with a total value of $1,051,909. The capacity of the dormitories was 238 and the training school 300. Enrollment was near capacity and the institution received an annual allocation averaging $181,000 a year from the state."Teachers College students rate lower on college ability tests," declared a description of teachers colleges in the United States (Report of the President's Commission on Higher Education, 1927) shortly before Dr. Riemer assumed the reins of leadership. "Teachers Colleges are rarely supported financially on the same level as comparable curriculums in the universities of the same state....Standards of faculty training and salaries are lower and buildings are poorer."

Riemer, like his predecessor, was a Clarion State Normal graduate, held a bachelor's degree from Bucknell, and had taught in the public schools. Riemer also taught at Bucknell, served on the staff of the Department of Public Instruction, and held the principalship at Bloomsburg State Normal School the four years preceding his Clarion appointment. He was perhaps the first Clarion alumnus to earn a doctorate (Leipzig, 1905). Riemer was to need all of his educational skills to accomplish the task that confronted him.

Clarion becomes a college, financial uncertainty hits hard

Harvey Gymnasium
Harvey Gymnasium
Clarion and the state held their own until 1933 but all were aware of the ominous black clouds on the horizon. In 1930 funds were allocated for the Harvey Gymnasium. The building site was excavated to include a swimming pool. However, before the building could be completed in 1931 the allocation was cut and the pool was never completed. In the first four years of the depression the average annual state appropriation to Clarion was in excess of $181,000. The appropriations for the last four years of the Riemer Administration (1933-1937) were cut about 63 percent less than $67,000. Clarion was undernourished financially. On several occasions this proved to be a near fatal illness. As enrollment ebbed from 351 in 1932 to 193 in 1936 available revenue decreased further. All programs were considerably curtailed and faculty salaries were decimated in 1933-1934. When Prof. J.W.F. Wilkinson retired from the deanship in 1935 his post was left vacant for financial reasons.

A number of remedies were proposed. They may have staved off death but the situation did not improve. The charging of tuition, not practiced since 1901, was reinstated. For a time this was counterbalanced by funds made available through the National Youth Corps to pay students up to $15 a month to work for the college. Admission standards were lowered in an endeavor to attract more students. According to Dr. Chandler "the lowered standards brought many undesirable persons into the college and ultimately into public school teaching positions. A number of introverts as well as psychiatric and other mental cases gained access to Clarion and the other state teachers colleges thus further tarnishing the reputation at a time when it could at least afford to be tarnished."

All the other state teachers colleges had a special curriculum such as home economics, library science, or business education. An additional fee was charged to students enrolled in the special curriculum. Efforts were made to have a special area approved for Clarion which would realize additional fees and ease the fiscal pressure. Many times during this "dark age" the Department of Public Instruction refused Clarion's appeal.

Throughout the state an often heard cry was "close the state colleges." This sentiment was by no means novel or unique. Almost from their inception there were elements in society who felt that the taxpayers money was being squandered in the support of teacher training institutions. Because of the desire to reduce taxes during the depression the crescendo of criticism and opposition reached its zenith. In 1932, 52 private colleges recommended that eight of the state teachers colleges be closed or converted into institutions subcollegiate in character. The low enrollment in state teachers colleges, the over-supply of teachers, and the depression were reasons given for the recommendations (Minutes of the Board of State Teachers College Presidents, 1932). The Harrisburg Patriot in its July 2, 1932, editorial "Market Glutted" and other publications raised the question editorially. "Why should the taxpayers of Pennsylvania be compelled to subsidize teacher education when the arts colleges do it and have been doing it for years with no State monies?" Fortunately saner heads prevailed and the movement to close the institutions never materialized.

Other trials and tribulations faced the administration. The institution's American Association of Teachers College accreditation was rescinded and great effort was required before accreditation was restored in 1934.

Riemer played a vital role both locally and on a state-wide basis in the verbal battle to save the teachers college from extinction. Tired and exhausted from the more or less "hand to mouth" existence of the institution and the perpetual struggle for survival he retired Jan. 31, 1937.