‘Resourceful’ ways grew department

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.

“Sol” Simonson had almost everyone and anything that moved involved in communications activities. He formed a bi-weekly colloquium called “The Communications Assembly” where students and faculty of the department got a chance to show off what they were doing. This alternated with the bi-weekly all-college assembly, which often turned into a showcase of speech activities. (Attendance was required.)

To support these activities Dr. Simonson was very resourceful. He seemed to have a pipeline to the President’s office and when a student association was organized with taxing ability he made sure that speech majors were well represented. (One year the Student Association president, vice president, and all class presidents were speech majors. All this in addition to the regular departmental representatives.)

In terms of facilities he was also resourceful. Vacant space on the top floor of Old Main was made into a radio studio and a sound film camera was purchased. When new buildings were built, speech had its share of space. As mentioned previously, Gregory Hall had a pie-shaped room designed for debate complete with podium lighting. Remember also the Fenton Hall suite of oak-doored rooms for radio, speech clinic and lounge. New seats were obtained for Old Main Auditorium and a lighting system with dimmers. (That board was used for a time in King Concert Hall.)

Simonson also had an intensive recruiting program. (One person who relied heavily on individual faculty coordinated Admissions in those days.) His advertising for one department exceeded that of the entire college. Speech faculty were on the road as much as any Division 1 football coach. (In return for a free trip home to Long Island I participated in recruiting panels at island high schools.)

By 1956 there were 41 entering freshmen as declared majors; total majors numbered 75 out of a total college attendance of 800 – invisibility it seemed like more.

The department probably would have continued to grow arithmetically except for one problem – there were few jobs for public school speech teachers, the avowed purpose of the program. To be honest most of the majors, myself included, did not plan to teach. We were just taking advantage of the low tuition in return for “putting up” with the teaching methods courses to achieve their goals in theatre, radio, TV, etc. One could live comfortably at Fredonia for about $600 a year. Speech majors were not alone in this system – “note” the Music Department.

Many, particularly the women, did go into teaching on the elementary level and, like my wife, were probably better teachers because of the program. (She was also elected to the Chautauqua County Legislature for three terms and headed some influential groups such as The League of Women Voters.)

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.