U is for University at Albany

The University at Albany, my library school alma mater, has undergone tremendous changes in its nearly 170 years. It started as a Normal Schoolcharter member of the State University of New York (SUNY) when the system began in 1948, and the school expanded its mission beyond teacher education to a broader liberal arts university in the 1960s.

The campus on the border of city of Albany proper has an ever-expanding uptown facility, built, I’ve discovered, on the former site of the Albany Country Club. When I went to graduate school in the School of Public Administration back in 1979, my classes were all in the uptown campus, a large and sprawling locale with bad signage. That campus was a location for the 1981 movie Rollover, a truly terrible film with Kris Kristofferson and Jane Fonda, because of its “resemblance to modern Middle Eastern architecture.”

When I went to library school in 1990, however, I attended the older, and more civilized, downtown campus, which was right-sized for me with only a half dozen academic buildings. I did have to trek occasionally uptown, but buses shuttle between the two campuses regularly.

Since I graduated, the university has become even larger, with more buildings on the uptown campus. An east campus, in neighboring Rensselaer County was developed by purchasing a former pharmaceutical company complex, which focuses on biotechnology. Possibly most notably, there is the ironically massive College of Nanotechnology, which has literally altered the landscape of Washington Avenue Extension. Recently, the nanotech has been spun off into its own school, despite the opposition of former UAlbany president Karen Hitchcock, whose opinion on this issue I share.

Some of the many famous alumni of the university have included Harvey Milk (1951), the openly gay former San Francisco city supervisor who was assassinated in 1978; authors Joseph E. Persico (1952), biographer of Edward R. Murrow, Nelson Rockefeller, William Casey; and Gregory Maguire (1976), author of Wicked; and actors Edward Burns, Harold Gould (1947), Steve Guttenberg, and D. B. Woodside (1991).

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

15 thoughts on “U is for University at Albany”

  1. My university (University of British Columbia) has grown in leaps and bounds since I attended, too. It’s like a whole other world now. But I sure loved my years there, living on campus and partying…oh yes, I did study, too! lol

    abcw team


  2. I’ve always been fascinated by universities. I earned my masters at SMU, where some of our famous alumni include Former First Lady Laura Bush, Nobel Prize winning physicist James Cronin, actress Kathy Bates, and television producer Aaron Spelling. Blessings!


  3. One of my colleges was situated in the midst of the English Peak District– out in the wilds you might say — as far as England has ‘the wilds’. As I look back I think my life has been a search for away places. I love that feeling of being isolated. Never have enjoyed city life.


  4. Years ago I heard repeatedly that the original Uptown Campus (shown in the photo) had been designed for a desert region in India, but somehow ended up in Albany NY mostly unchanged. These buildings are great in the summer when there are hardly any students, they allow the air to keep moving and cool. But in the winter, as many students have pointed out over the years, the architecture is a disaster. Do you know anything about this India desert story, or is that just a legend?


    1. Dan- I heard the same story, unsurprisingly, around the time of the Rollover movie. But I don’t know if it’s true or apocryphal. The Wikipedia says: “The campus exemplifies the style [Edward Durell] Stone used in his major projects between 1953 and 1970, including the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India; the Hotel Phoenicia in Beirut, Lebanon; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York; and the Aon Center, originally the Standard Oil Building, in Chicago.”


  5. The words “bad signage” sounds as though you could be wandering around there for a long time. although ending up by the fountain would be a pleasant respite.


  6. Have a similar experience of the campus of my grad school, but since I have a friend who’s working in the administration of the school, she keeps me up to date with the changes in how the school is run. In a university, changes never seem to stop:)


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