Cleveland State University: A Brief History

Cleveland State Today

Cleveland State University is a comprehensive, urban university located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It was established in 1964 as a state-assisted university to provide public higher education for citizens of greater Cleveland and northeast Ohio. In its first year, the University acquired the buildings, faculty, staff and programs of Fenn College, a private institution of 2,500 students, and in 1969 the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law became part of CSU.

The Beginnings: YMCA

A classroom from the YMCA's educational program

The origins of Fenn College date from 1870 when the Cleveland Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) created an Educational Committee to provide d free evening classes for the benefit of young men coming to the Y. in French and German. After offering other courses sporadically throughout the 1870's, the YMCA moved to establish a formal evening educational in the 1880's. In 1906 the YMCA combined its evening school with a newly created day school under the name of the Association Institute.

By 1909 the YMCA was operating four different day schools: The School of Commerce and Finance, The Technical School, The Preparatory School, and the Special School (dropped in 1913). The schools admitted their first female students in 1918. In 1921 the YMCA's educational branch was designated the Cleveland YMCA School of Technology (Y-Tech).

A classroom from the YMCA's educational program

Finding a demand following the First World War the YMCA first began offering college credit courses in engineering and business in 1923. These early classes were conducted at the Central YMCA building on Prospect Avenue and East 22nd Street and in three converted residences on Prospect east of the Central YMCA: the Johnson Building; the Edwards Building, and the Medical Building.

Two significant events marked 1927. Y-Tech's first college class graduated, and planning began for a junior college program that would became Nash Junior College in 1931. In 1928 the first building built exclusively for the college, the laboratory and classroom Fenn Building, was constructed adjacent to the Central YMCA, behind the Johnson Building.

Fenn College

A Sign Advertising Fenn College

The need to achieve accreditation for its academic programs prompted the YMCA in 1929 to re-organize again its education program. On January 1, 1930 Y-Tech took the name Fenn College in honor of Sereno Peck Fenn, who had served on the YMCA board of directors and as the YMCA’s president for 25 years. College lore holds that among the reasons for the name change was that the school’s graduates felt the name, YMCA, put them at a disadvantage in competing against graduates from other colleges in the job market. In 1935 the YMCA Preparatory School and the Nash Junior College ceased operations and a School of Arts and Science was added to the Engineering and Business Administration schools.

Dr. Cecil Vincent Thomas, who served simultaneously as the YMCA's Executive Director and as Fenn's first President, 1923-1947, guided Fenn's early development. With several notable private colleges already established in the Cleveland area, including Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Fenn College sought to attract those students for whom college otherwise would have been financially unattainable by offering a low-cost quality education. In line with this Fenn in 1923 became the fourth college in Ohio to adopt the cooperative education program. This program of alternating periods of classroom work with on-the-job work experience was required for all day students and was optional for evening division students.

A view of Fenn Tower

In need of additional classroom and laboratory space Fenn College purchased the National Town and Country Club building at East 24th Street and Euclid Avenue Street in 1937, becoming only the third college in America to have a skyscraper on campus. Dedicated as Fenn Tower in 1938, the new building provided much needed classroom and office space. Additionally it gave Fenn a more prestigious "Euclid Avenue" address. Fenn's reputation was further enhanced when it received accreditation from the North Central Association in 1940.

During the administration of Dr. Edward Hodnett, 1948-1951, Fenn constructed Foster Hall, an engineering classroom and laboratory building funded by a donation from Cleveland entrepreneur Claude Foster in 1949, and at the recommendation of the North Central Association, separated its operations from those of the YMCA in 1950.

Dr. G. Brooks Earnest served as Fenn’s President from 1951 until the State of Ohio's takeover of the College in 1965. Under Dr. Earnest Fenn expanded again purchasing the three story Ohio Motors building on East 24th Street in 1953. Renovated for classroom and laboratory work the building opened in 1958 and was dedicated in January 1959 as Stilwell Hall in honor of Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Stilwell.

Throughout its history Fenn College had always managed to operate without incurring a budget deficit. However, by 1963 the College administration was confronted with mounting financial difficulties due to rising operating costs, direct competition from a new community college, and persistent rumors of a possible state takeover. That year the College issued The Fenn Plan for Unified Higher Education in Cleveland-Northeastern Ohio calling upon the State of Ohio to develop a state university in Cleveland using Fenn College as its nucleus.

During the 1962 Ohio gubernatorial campaign candidate James Rhodes had proposed that there should be a state university within a 30 mile radius of every citizen. At that time the nearest state university to Cleveland was Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. On 18 December 1964, Governor Rhodes signed Ohio General Assembly Amended House Bill No. 2 creating Ohio's seventh state university, Cleveland State University and announced the appointment of a board of trustees. On March 10, 1965 the Fenn College and CSU Trustees reached an agreement incorporating Fenn as the nucleus of the new university.

On June 13, 1965 Fenn College held its last graduation ceremony at Severance Hall. During its 43 year history Fenn had awarded 5951 diplomas to its graduates. On September 1, 1965 representatives of the Fenn College and CSU Board of Trustees met for a simple ceremony marking the end of Fenn College and the beginning of The Cleveland State University.

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

A view of the John-Marshall College of Law Building

CSU's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law developed from the merger of the John Marshall and Cleveland law schools. Cleveland Law School dates from 1897 when Willis Vickery, Arthur Rowley, Charles Bentley, Frederic Howe and Clifford Neff organized the Baldwin University Law School. At the same time Frances Wing founded the Cleveland Law School. The schools merged in 1899 and incorporated as the Cleveland Law School, the law department of the Baldwin University (Baldwin-Wallace), an association that lasted until 1926. Cleveland Law School began instruction in the America Trust Building in downtown Cleveland and soon moved into the Engineer's Building. It was the first law school in Ohio to admit women.

Established by Alfred Benesch, Frank Cullitan and David Meck, John Marshall Law School began classes on 20 September 1916 in the New Guardian Building on Euclid Avenue. In 1919 Marshall moved to the old courthouse on Public Square. Two years later Marshall moved to 242-248 Superior Avenue. Marshall moved again in 1938, this time to the Hippodrome Building, 720 Euclid Avenue. The successful results of its first year's instruction resulted in affiliation with Ohio Northern University in May 1917. After six years the relationship cordially ended and Marshall received authorization to confer degrees under its own name.

In 1946 the two downtown evening law schools consolidated as the Cleveland-Marshall Law School and moved operations to the 1240 Ontario Building, a site occupied until the building was razed for the Justice Center. Between 1963-1967, C-M had a nominal relationship with Baldwin-Wallace College. After regaining independent status C-M initiated its first full-time legal program, graduating its first full-time class in 1970. C-M received state institutional status in 1969, becoming part of CSU as the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, the largest law college in Ohio.

Cleveland State University

A view of the Research & Science Building

Trustee negotiating committees from Fenn and CSU reached an agreement in April 1965 whereby the State would take control of Fenn College, its facilities and personnel on 1 September 1965. Dr. Harry Newburn served as acting president until the appointment of Dr. Harold Enarson as CSU's first president in February 1966. Dr. Newburn returned in 1972 as interim president until the appointment of Dr. Walter Waetjen as CSU's second president in 1973.

Dr. Enarson's tenure as President marked a time of tremendous growth. The campus expanded from nine acres and three buildings to over 27 acres with four new classroom and office buildings. Enrollment increased three-fold from 5000 to 15,000. The faculty increased from 90 to 450 members. The academic program added a college of education in 1966, graduate degree programs in 1967, and doctoral degree programs in 1969.

A view Rhodes Tower during construction

Dr. Waetjen's tenure, 1973-1988, marked a period of maturation as CSU sought to define its role as an urban university. Its academic program grew and significant research and public-service programs such as the Legal Clinic, the Speech and Hearing Clinic, and the Center for Neighborhood Development were add. Campus growth during this period included the openings of the Physical Education Building (1973), University Center (1974), the Law Building (1977), and the Science and Research Building (1981).

During the administration of Dr. John Flower, 1988-1992, the University instituted a major organizational change that reflected the importance of positive racial and community relations. Dr. Flower's tenure also marked the start of a transition period in University labor relations as first the classified staff, followed by the faculty and the professional staff all formed unions to represent them in negotiations with the University. In 1990 the Music and Communications building opened, and a long time desire was realized when the Convocation Center opened in 1991.

Faced with the demographics of a stagnating or declining pool of college age students, the University undertook several major projects to improve student services and retention during the administration of Dr. Claire Van Ummersen, 1993-2001. Improvements included the conversion to the semester system in 1998 and the implementation of a modern information technology infrastructure. While attempting to update its computer system the University encountered delays and substantial increased costs in implementing the computer software that was supposed to allow the University to integrate its various administrative functions. This, combined with a period of decreasing levels of financial support from the State of Ohio resulted in a rapid increase in tuition and has limited program development and improvements. In the later half of the 1990's the campus continued to grow with the opening of the Health Sciences Center (1997), Monte Ahuja Hall (1998) and the Urban Affairs College building (2001).

Dr. Michael Schwartz as President

On 26 September 2002, Dr. Michael Schwartz was installed as CSU's fifth President. Putting forth the goal of being a first-rate comprehensive university that serves its students, the region and the State of Ohio, Dr. Schwartz oversaw immense changes while preserving and strengthening the University's fundamental purposes of teaching, research, scholarship, and service. A tireless advocate of CSU throughout the Greater Cleveland area, Dr. Schwartz worked to make sure that the community was aware of all the good things happening on campus.

Dr. Michael Schwartz

Enhancements to the University's academic program included the institution of academic standards, an honors program, a scholars program, learning communities, an undergraduate research program; a common reading program; and revamped general education requirements. Among the new program started up during Dr. Schwartz's presidency were the Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies program; the Confucius Institute designation; the Center for School Leadership; the International Business Program; the Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease; collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute; and programs to improve the bar passage rate for students.

The University's revised campus master plan, Building Blocks for the Future, charted more than $350 million in new construction and renovations, changing the once inward-looking face of the campus architecture to one that opens out towards the community. Changes included converting Fenn Tower from a multi-use building into a residence hall; enclosing the first floor of Main Classroom; renovating the entrance to the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law's Bert. L. Wolstein Hall; renovating the second floor of Rhodes Tower West; Renovation of Parker Hannifin Hall (Howe Mansion); construction of the Administration Center; construction of the College of Education and Human Services Building; and the demolition of University Center and construction of a new student center.

Looking Forward

CSU Inaugurates Sixth President, Dr. Ronald M. Berkman

Following after Dr. Schwartz's retirement on 30 June 2009 the CSU Board of Trustees in July appointed Dr. Ronald M. Berkman, Provost at Florida International University, as CSU's sixth president. Dr. Berkman was inaugurated as President on October 16, 2009.

Today, more than 1,000 courses support 200 major fields of study at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as professional certificate and continuing education programs. The University also offers an Honors Program to academically talented and highly motivated students. The University is organized around eight academic colleges: Liberal Art and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Education and Human Services, Engineering, Science, Law, Urban Affairs and Graduate Studies. The largest "footprint" in downtown Cleveland, the University has 40 buildings on 85 acres, as well as extended campuses in Solon and Westlake, Ohio.