Dowling College: a sad event in the history of higher education in Suffolk

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The announcement last week of the closure of Dowling College in Oakdale, preceded a decade ago by the closure of Southampton College, are sad events in the history of higher education in Suffolk County. I was closely involved with both colleges. What has been Dowling College since 1968 started…

The announcement last week of the closure of Dowling College in Oakdale, preceded a decade ago by the closure of Southampton College, are sad events in the history of higher education in Suffolk County. I was closely involved with both colleges.

What has been Dowling College since 1968 started in 1959 as Adelphi Suffolk College. Adelphi University in Garden City had been eager to expand into Suffolk County.

In a fine history of Adelphi Suffolk that appeared in the Fall 2005 and Fall 2006 issues of the Long Island Historical Journal, Leroy Douglas, a fellow student of mine at Adelphi Suffolk (who went on to become a Forest Hills High School social studies teacher) related how Adelphi offered extension courses in Riverhead, Patchogue, Port Jefferson and Sayville between 1953 and 1958. “Adelphi Suffolk was created in response to a very pressing educational need,” he recounted. “While over six thousand students graduated from the forty-two high schools in Suffolk County in June 1960, the fastest growing county in the United States did not have a single four-year college.”

There was competition between Southampton and Sayville to be the site of Adelphi’s Suffolk campus, but Sayville won out with a community group promoting the hamlet and an old public school building—“Old ‘88”—provided for its location.

Adelphi Suffolk became the first four-year liberal arts college in Suffolk.

I had entered Antioch College in Ohio in 1959 and was inspired by an Antioch internship (at the Cleveland Press) to become a journalist—as soon as possible. I was from New York City, and at Antioch the first week met a girl from Centerport in Suffolk (last month we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary) and we headed back east in 1961 and I became a student at Adelphi Suffolk.

Adelphi Suffolk was a wonderful experience. There were some brilliant professors at that old 20-room schoolhouse and a cozy feeling. I started a college newspaper The New Voice (one of its reporters was Leroy Douglas who was from Wyandanch).

I’m afraid I couldn’t stay at Adelphi Suffolk beyond a year-and-a-half. That itch to get into journalism was so strong. I finally became a reporter at the daily Long Island Press and completed a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s years later.

Adelphi purchased the former William K. Vanderbilt Estate in Oakdale in 1963 and the college shifted its locale to that picturesque riverside setting, ties with Adelphi ended in 1968, and it was renamed Dowling College for its principal benefactor, philanthropist Robert Dowling.

Although since 1978 I’ve been a regular journalism professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury, I taught a course at Dowling College a while back filling in for my friend, New York Times reporter John Rather of Riverhead, and the feeling was the same as I had experienced as a student—cozy, personal. Indeed, Dowling described itself for many years as “The Personal College.” That it was: small classes, close interaction between students and teachers.

Our son, Adam Grossman, graduated from Dowling and went on to become Riverhead Town Attorney and is now vice chairman of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. Journalists I have known who went to Dowling include Joe Demma of Newsday, Bryan Boyhan of The Sag Harbor Express and Mike Jahn of The New York Times.

Dowling’s closing—unless 11th hour negotiations are successful in saving it—would be a terrible loss for Suffolk County.

Likewise, the closing of Southampton College was a terrible loss for Suffolk. It began as an extension in 1963 of Long Island University in Suffolk County—also, like Adelphi Suffolk, coming to Suffolk but after a push from Southampton residents.

I taught at Southampton College as a part-time adjunct professor from 1980 until it was shut down by LIU in 2005. It, too, was a very personal learning institution—also featuring small classes and close interaction between students and professors. It was taken over the next year by Stony Brook University and became Stony Brook Southampton, a college focusing on ecological sustainability—in Suffolk a perfect locale for learning about that.

Phoenix-like it was booming, some 800 students were enrolled by 2010, but then the new president of Stony Brook University, Dr. Samuel Stanley, suddenly and so unfortunately ordered it shut down that year. In the last few years, there’s been a partial rebirth at Stony Brook Southampton—Stony Brook’s marine sciences program is prospering there, a graduate program in writing which goes back to Southampton College is doing well. There are other graduate programs. And quite likely it will be the new site of Southampton Hospital with many associated courses in the health sciences.

Still, driving past Stony Brook Southampton one sees a college that is a shadow of what it had been, even though the state has invested many tens of millions of dollars in it.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.

Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.


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