‘Special studies’ opened doors

Editor’s note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.

Thanks to Ron Warren, one of the original photographers hired to staff McEwen and Dr. Robert Deming of the English Department, film production lasted until the 1990s. By that time Fredonia had two film processors and numerous cameras, many donated by local TV stations that were getting out of the film business. Ron was a stringer for WIVB in Buffalo and this contact was very valuable. There was even a commercial editing station obtained in trade from SUNY Purchase.

Much of the equipment was traded to SUNY Binghamton. Apparently they thought that film was still “academically respectable” as it becomes obsolete. (It seems.)

Having made that editorial comment let me backtrack a moment. In 1981 I wrote a short history of speech or communication at Fredonia.

It was done just before the various courses housed in “special studies” were placed in a formal department setting. I was to become the first chair but would continue to function as director of Instructional Resources. I had enough of territorial disputes over equipment with anal AV directors. In writing this history I cautioned readers about my editorial opinions.

There is fragmentary evidence that some form of communication study existed at Fredonia even back to Academy days. The first class in public speaking (oral discourse) was taught by the principal. In more modern times we have a letter from Dr. Robert Thompson, former Dean and Acting President and the man most responsible for the accreditation of the College. (It’s a letter to John Ohles for inclusion in his dissertation history of the College dated Oct. 4, 1963. The letter is in the College Archives.)

Thompson picks up the story in the 1930s.

“Fredonia in the thirties was one of the first normal schools of the state to interest itself in speech and speech correction. Acquired a Fairchild machine (disc recorder) and other equipment early, and brought Dr. Mardel Oglivie there. (Later Dr. Oglivie became Professor of speech at Queens College, New York City and a national figure in the speech movement.) Then in the early ’50s Fredonia secured the special speech curriculum.

This was the beginning of significant activity dating from the hiring of Solomon Simonson in 1949, a specialist in rhetoric and public address trained at Oxford and a practicing Rabbi. In addition to his Ph.D. he had a law degree.

Dr. Simonson was able to convince President Leslie Gregory of a need for a speech communication program and argued that the program would draw students. (It certainly drew me.) Obviously, in a teacher’s college, the program had to be tied to an education degree so a dual major in speech and elementary education was designed. (Certification K-6 in elementary and 9-12 in speech. Also included was provisional American Speech and Hearing Association Certification-Speech Correction.)

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.