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Class of 1941...


The 1941 Microcosm was dedicated to the preservation of the ideals upon which City College was founded. In response to war abroad and censorship in the States, the class of 1941 sought to defend the values of democracy at the College. As stated in Microcosm: “Academic freedom, merely an abstract concept to us in high school, commanded our attention in college as a sharp reality to be fought for and preserved.”

Formed in 1939, the American Student Union took the lead to mobilizing student opinion and action. While students fought against McCarthyism and censorship taking place on campus, they also rallied against those who tarnished the reputation of the College by referring to it as the “little red schoolhouse.” The concern of communism at City College led the Board on Higher Education to pass a resolution forbidding Communists from holding teaching positions, and the Taxpayers Federation called for the abolition of the College as a free institution.

In addition to fighting for academic freedom on campus, the American Student Union organized the College’s greatest student sponsored peace demonstration in 1941. Four thousand students attended. As the war progressed, sharp differences of opinion arose on campus. Some students called for collective action against Hilter, while the others thought it necessary to focus their attention on fighting Fascism at home rather than abroad.

The relationship between students and the administration during this period was plagued with challenges. In 1938, City College’s fifth president, Frederick Robinson retired. Chairman of the History Department, Professor Nelson P. Mead became Acting President, which “ushered a new deal in student-administration relations.” In 1941, Acting President Mead announced his resignation and was replaced by Professor Harry N. Wright, Director of the Evening Session.

In spite of the difficult student-administration relationship, opportunities for students to socialize were plentiful. College-wide activities and social functions on campus were on the upswing thanks to the efforts of House Plan and other student groups. Students spent Friday afternoons dancing the “shag” and the “big apple” at Townsend Harris auditorium. The Student Council sponsored the first school-wide boat ride to Bear Mountain in the Spring of ’37. The second annual House Plan Carnival, held in the gym, gave the class its first taste of an affair which in succeeding years became one of the biggest events at the College.

In athletics, basketball reigned as the “King of City College sports.” During the ’40-’41 season, Coach Holman turned out a fine record of 14 won and 4 lost, winning the invitation to play at Madison Square Garden, where they took third–place ranking.

Academics still dominated student life at the College. The Student Council conducted a two-year survey amongst students and Gibbs ’39 of House Plan carried out a course-evaluation in hopes of improving the College’s curriculum and student satisfaction. As a result of these surveys, the seven minutes allocated between classes was extended to 10 minutes. Moreover, the comprehensive senior reading and foreign language examinations were abolished. Additionally, the Evening Session was reorganized and an African-American history class was offered for the first time.

Members of the class of 1941, saw even greater change beyond the academic curriculum. In spring 1938, a loop-hole in the College’s by-laws enabled the first female student into the School of Technology. By 1941, the School had seven women in its student body of approximately six thousand men. Students also experienced a closer cooperation between the municipal government and the College with greater opportunities to participate in internships with city agencies.

Academic improvements were of course limited by budget concerns. There was a lack of support for publications on campus. The College’s newspaper, The Campus, beset by financial and editorial difficulties was discontinued for more than a semester. From March until October 1940, City College did not have a newspaper.

The graduates of the Class of 1941 had an uncertain future ahead of them as they entered a world “gone mad, a world hell- bent on destroying itself and everything in it.” As the editor of Microcosm stated: “Now we go, fortified with a two dollar sheepskin and a sound education, to challenge a world in the darkest blackout in history….It’s not a picnic. Some of us are going to fall pretty early, and of us, who have the grit and stamina, will see this through the finish. And that finish is peace, security, and a better world.” Though all graduates faced challenges after graduation, many did succeed. Practically all the engineering graduates of 1941 were placed in engineering positions upon earning their degree. The Federal Service felt the need for engineers to be so great that they did not hold competitive examinations, but merely accepted student based on education.

Many of these class notes are excerpted from the 1941 Microcosm, Editor-in-Chief Albert Greenberg.


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