2017 marks OUE’s diamond anniversary
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — This year marks the diamond anniversary of Ohio University Eastern, but the institution’s origins actually stretch back for more than two centuries.
Sixty years ago in 1957, more than a decade after World War II came to a close, the United States was still striving to educate and employ millions of military veterans returning home from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific Theater. The federal government, hoping in part to remedy mistakes made in the wake of WWI, approved the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, which became widely known as the G.I. Bill. It provided veterans with three things: unemployment pay; guaranteed loans to buy homes, farms or businesses; and the opportunity to obtain education or training.
Thanks to that legislation, millions of former soldiers and sailors who would have flooded the job market and increased the unemployment rate instead chose to pursue higher education – something that had been reserved primarily for the wealthy prior to WWII. Colleges and universities across the nation responded to the influx of students by expanding campuses and programs, and Ohio University at Athens was no exception.
In addition to hosting increased activity on its main campus, OU took steps to establish five regional campuses across southeastern Ohio, including one in Belmont County that began to offer courses in Martins Ferry in 1957. The other regional campuses were opened at around the same time at sites in Lancaster, Portsmouth, Chillicothe and Zanesville.
Robert Bovenizer was named the first dean of the regional campus in Belmont County, and he served in that capacity from 1957-1983. Under his leadership, classes were offered for a decade at Martins Ferry before the new Shannon Hall opened on the current campus, situated about 4 miles west of St. Clairsville along U.S. 40.
FOUNDING AND DEVELOPMENT OF OHIO UNIVERSITY
At a Boston tavern in 1786, Gen. Rufus Putnam and the Rev. Manasseh Cutler gathered with nine other men to establish the Ohio Company of Associates and to propose establishment of American Western University in the Northwest Territory, according to information provided by OU. They petitioned Congress regarding their settlement plans, leading to passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. It included a passage penned by Cutler, who co-founded OU with Putnam, that states: “Religion morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” That statement appears on OU’s College Gate in Athens to this day.
Ohio achieved statehood in March 1803. Less than a year later, on Feb. 18, 1804, the Ohio General Assembly passed an act establishing “The Ohio University” — 66 years before Ohio State University was established at Columbus. OU is the oldest land grant university in the nation to be established by federal legislation via the Northwest Ordinance, and this occurred prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1790. The proposed American Western University was never created.
OU’s single building at Athens opened in 1808 with three students and one professor, Jacob Lindley who also served as the university’s first president. He established a classical curriculum for the school then known as the Athens Academy. One of the first two graduates, Thomas Ewing, eventually became a U.S. senator and cabinet member or adviser to four presidents. In 1825 he was awarded OU’s first master’s degree in honor of his achievements on the national scene.
Diversity was a hallmark of the university early in its history. It awarded a degree in 1828 to John Newton Templeton, an African-American who had born into slavery in South Carolina. Women were first admitted to OU after the Civil War in 1871. Margaret Boyd was the first woman to graduate from OU in 1873.
Ohio University struggled to survive during the second half of the 19th century, with state legislators preferring to support the more centrally located Ohio State University. Some even suggested that OU and Miami University of Ohio be demoted to serve as preparatory schools for students aspiring to attend OSU.
OU prevailed, though, and eventually secured tax-based state funding that allowed it to continue to develop and expand. The university offered its first correspondence courses in 1924, an important precursor to its regional campuses and the distance learning programs it offers today. OU’s reach across the region and the state expanded even further in 1942, when students started the radio station WOUB (We’re Ohio University Broadcasting). The radio station remains active today as the region’s PBS station.
In 1943, OU’s enrollment dropped by more than 2,000 as hundreds of male students and 17 percent of the faculty enlisted in World War II, according to an online history of the school. A 1945 memorial service honored 221 OU students and alumni who died in the conflict.
Later, as veterans returned home from the war, students flooded OU seeking educations funded by the G.I. Bill. This led to shortages of instructors, educational spaces and student housing. Regional branch campuses began opening in 1946, first at Portsmouth, Chillicothe and Zanesville.
Today, the five regional campuses combined serve more than 8,000 full- and part-time, traditional and non-traditional undergraduates. The university’s total enrollment was more than 29,000 in 2014, and there are more than 200,000 Ohio University alumni worldwide, 105,000 of whom live in Ohio.
THE EASTERN CAMPUS
Ohio University Eastern’s mission today is to offer OU courses, programs and selected degrees to residents of southeastern Ohio and neighboring states. Any resident of Ohio with a high school diploma or its equivalent is guaranteed admission.
Following approval of the G.I. Bill, then-OU President John C. Baker established the first “branches” of the university in high school buildings at Portsmouth, Zanesville and Chillicothe, where the university already had Evening Divisions. The branch program expanded to include a site in Martins Ferry in 1957.
“Although the branches were considered a temporary emergency measure, Baker anticipated the issues of access across geographic and personal boundaries — issues tracing their roots to the G.I. Bill — that kept the university’s regional programs alive once the crisis had passed,” the university’s information states. “Baker’s belief that the branches could be self-supporting, together with the passionate commitment of the communities in which they were located, created the structure of Ohio University that has since come to pass: a central campus in Athens and five university campuses throughout the region.”
During the Belmont County branch’s first decade, the current 358-acre campus was secured and developed. Efforts during the 1950s and ’60s were conducted with help from the Belmont County Board of Commissioners and Consolidated Coal Co. The campus was constructed on a site that had once been an experimental agricultural farm.
Shannon Hall, the main academic building on the Eastern Campus, was named after Wilson Shannon, the first governor of the Buckeye State to be born in Ohio. OU’s online archives indicate the three-story, Georgian-style structure cost about $2 million. It opened in 1967 and is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
As educational opportunities increased in the area, a science and engineering building was leased to nearby Belmont College, and a Health and Physical Education Recreation Community Center was established in 1997, completing the present-day setting of the campus.
In addition to the university buildings, the campus is also home to the one-room Great Western Schoolhouse, an 1800s tavern/roadhouse used by those traveling the National Road and a covered bridge on the eastern side of the campus property. Dysart Woods, located between the villages of Belmont and Centerville, is also one of OU’s sites in Belmont County.
The Eastern Campus has educated a wide variety of students over the past 60 years, providing many first-generation college students with the opportunity to pursue a degree close to home. Recruiting information states that OUE combines the advantages of a small college with the resources of a major university. It features small class sizes, university-level instruction with about 24 full-time faculty and affordable tuition and fees. All tenure-track faculty members have doctorates, and with about 75 adjunct instructors OUE offers nearly 190 sections of coursework offered each quarter. All graduates of the Eastern Campus receive the same Ohio University degree that is bestowed on students at the main campus.
More than 1,000 students enroll annually at the Eastern campus for one or more courses. An estimated 90 percent of them are degree-seeking undergraduates. While 60 percent of Eastern’s students reside in Belmont County, the campus draws students from more than 20 Ohio counties, the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and the southwestern counties of Pennsylvania. Students from neighboring states are able to attend at in-state rates.
OUE offers 13 complete degree programs and allows students to begin any of the roughly 250 majors offered at Athens. Some students leave the Eastern campus after two years to complete their education on the main campus or at other universities in the area. OUE has provided particularly strong instruction in the fields of elementary education, business administration and specialized studies over the years.
OUE also offers intramural and inter-collegiate men’s and women’s sports, such as basketball, and its theater program involves both students and the public.
OUE also works with the main campus and other regional campuses to provide regular classroom courses by alternative means, such as radio broadcast, audio and compact discs. The campuses are connected by a compressed video system that allows simultaneous broadcast of courses to and from all campuses, making it possible for OUE students to take courses presented by faculty from Athens or other regional campuses.
OUE is also well known for its efforts to educate non-traditional students, meaning those who are 26 years of age or older. Many stay-at-home mothers of the 1960s and ’70s obtained degrees via OUE, as did displaced coal miners and steelworkers. OUE’s Credit for Work Experience program also provides qualified students the opportunity to apply for university credit based on prior work experience.