Battling to keep speech program

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.

In addition control of the Fine Arts Center, which Irv Smith had helped design, was given to a professional manager with responsibilities for its gallery, theatre, and concert hall.

Radio and television courses were suspended for two years, on a formal credit basis, but were returned to the curriculum because of student demand. The campus radio station, now independent of curriculum, continued to be a popular activity. Before the program was suspended there were multiple sections of radio and television courses filled to capacity.

At a statewide assembly held at Geneseo students in the program won nine of fourteen awards, all of the firsts, in competition with Schools like Syracuse and Ithaca – and of course Geneseo.

In the early ’70s a Department of Theater Arts was created and its faculty, headed by Dr. Jack Cogdil from Texas, was an interesting bunch. Speech was revived to the surprise of some by Dr. Rex Mix and instruction in radio resumed. Television was to follow shortly.

Perhaps it is the nature of theater people to be self-destructive but some of the new faculty wanted no part of speech and saw lines designed for this purpose as opportunities to expand theatre. New directors, costumers, set designers and the like. Where speech had at least been tolerated in English it was in mortal danger in theatre.

Speech was pulled, some say rescued, from theater and placed in an area of “special studies” by Dr. J. Carter Rowland, former chairman of English and then academic vice president.

One of speech-communication’s problems was the discipline’s lack of direction. There were many experiments. Some involving amateur psychology were tried and abandoned.

Happily speech communication both at Fredonia and nationally, in most places, has returned to its former communication emphasis and was really stronger for the side trips. It now was based on solid research rather than alchemy.

Returning to radio and television a new Instructional Resources Director, Dr. David Nottingham, opened the vacant television studios, gave the radio equipment to the student station, and established a recording technology program. Recording technology or “Tonemeister” was originally started to support the music department’s archival needs it soon would turn its back on such a mundane reason to exist.

Unfortunately a period of budget retrenchments, confusion as to basic mission, lack of communication with faculty and staff, off-campus misadventures with BOCES complete with a fistfight between the two media directors in the Park Pub (now DeJohn’s), and other staff problems left little time for IRC to improve the communications program.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident. Send comments to