Montclair State Celebrates One Hundred Years

Photo: Mike Peters

As Montclair State University heads into its second century, it is time to celebrate its remarkable past and look forward to the future. Born out of the necessity for a new school to train teachers in New Jersey, Montclair State has grown to become the second largest university in the state training not only teachers, but scientists, mathematicians, artists and leaders in a number of fields.

For 100 years, Montclair has been meeting the needs of its students and the state and has done so in spite of insufficient state funding and support and a shortage of facilities. It has survived because of the courage, vision and drive of extraordinary leaders who have persevered against all odds to keep it going and growing. It has also grown because of the commitment of faculty and staff to do all in their power to provide students with the best education possible and because of the efforts of the many alumni who contribute so much in time, energy and financial support.

Montclair State is special—it has a proud past and a bright future and now, at its centennial, the University community celebrates both.

1908: A Year of Beginnings

1908 saw the creation of much that we take for granted today. It was in 1908 that the Wright Brothers patented their new aircraft and four months later, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge crashed in one to become the first airplane fatality. In Detroit, the first Model T Ford was built and rival automaker General Motors was founded.

It was also in 1908 that a school for teachers, the New Jersey State Normal School at Montclair, was dedicated. Over the course of the next 100 years, the school has grown from one building with one program and 187 students into Montclair State University with five colleges and schools on a 246-acre campus offering more than 250 majors, minors and concentrations to nearly 17,000 students.

Since 1908, Montclair State has granted degrees to more than 100,000 graduates—graduates who have come from different backgrounds and situations but all with the desire to better their lives through education.

“Our graduates are as diverse as the state of New Jersey,” says Karen Pennington, vice president for student development and campus life. “Some are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Some are the first in their families to go to college while others come from a long line of college graduates. All of them have something in common—the appreciation for the education they received at Montclair State and their desire to share that knowledge with the world.”

Montclair State has had an impact not only on their lives but also on all the lives that have been touched by those graduates. Generations of people have benefited from the teaching, leadership, knowledge and abilities of Montclair graduates. For 100 years, Montclair has been a place where people come to learn, grow and prepare to go out and make their mark on the world.

Celebrating a Century

During the remainder of 2007 and into the fall of 2008, the entire University community will be celebrating this milestone with special centennial events including a convocation, conferences, athletic events, a dinner gala, a festival and a special season of performing arts presented by Peak Performances @ Montclair.

“For the centennial year, Peak Performances @ Montclair features many premieres from world-renowned artists across the disciplines of dance, music and theater,” says Jed Wheeler, executive director for arts and cultural programming. “Two premieres of note are a new American opera, Elmer Gantry by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein and a world premiere by jazz master Fred Hersch. Everyone is invited to experience world-class performances at a price that all can afford.”

Whether student, alumni, faculty or staff, everyone will have opportunities to join in celebrating the remarkable history and achievements of Montclair State.

“We will celebrate in many ways the hundred years of history of this extraordinary institution,” said President Susan A. Cole in her opening day address to the faculty, “and take the time to contemplate that history, absorb its lessons, and embark on the strategic planning that will launch the University’s second century.”

From Past to Present

Montclair’s history has indeed helped to shape the present. One hundred years after its founding, the institution is still facing the same challenges and fighting the same battles as it did in the beginning. One of these challenges has been and remains a shortage of facilities. The original campus building, now called College Hall, was designed to accommodate 250 students but by Montclair’s second year, 352 students were enrolled and just eight years after it was founded, there were more than 700 students crowded into that one building.

A shortage of student housing is also something which Montclair has dealt with since its inception. The first residence hall—built with private funds since state funding was not forthcoming—opened in 1915, was completely filled immediately and had a waiting list from its first day. There has been a waiting list for housing at Montclair ever since.

The on-campus housing that is so greatly needed provides more than just beds and desks. According to Susanne Ferrin, director of residential education and services, “A well-rounded residential living experience complements what students learn in the classroom. An active residential community fosters the development of many skills, such as interpersonal, communication and leadership—skills that promote student success in their personal and professional lives in and beyond college.”

Despite the lack of operating support and adequate facilities from its earliest years, Montclair’s enrollment and reputation continued to grow. In 1939, the American Council on Education ranked the quality of Montclair’s students among the top three percent in the nation and a 1945 study ranked the quality of Montclair’s faculty first among the six New Jersey teacher’s colleges. The quality of the education provided continues to be the top priority for the University.

“In order to provide the buildings and the faculty that we have needed, we have taken matters into our own hands; we have been aggressive and entrepreneurial and clever about turning straw into gold. And we have moved from one amazing success to another,” says Dr. Cole. “This institution will never succumb to tough circumstances.” About the future, she adds, “As always, we will be short of everything we need and, as always, we will not let that stop us.”

Looking Forward

Just as Montclair State’s past has helped to shape the present, the past and present will help shape the future. Although many things will undoubtedly change in higher education, the University will be ready. With the creativity and courage born of a history of surviving difficult circumstances, Montclair State is ready for the next century.

“It is clear that the mission and function of higher education will change more radically in the next 100 years,” says Richard Lynde, provost and vice president for academic affairs and chair of the Centennial Steering Committee. “If the future leaders of the University exhibit the same vision, willingness to take calculated risks, flexibility and accommodation to change as their predecessors, along with the ability to differentiate between what can be more effectively accomplished by computers and what can only be done by a human being, this university will be more highly regarded and have a greater impact in 2108 than it does today.”