By Olivia Booth and Timothy Bolger
Dowling College students learned harsh lessons in sadness, anger and mistrust when their 48-year-old alma mater in Oakdale gave three days’ notice that it is closing its classroom doors forever on Friday.
More than 2,400 graduate and undergraduate students waited hours this week for their transcripts while scrambling to figure out where to transfer their credits—although they were later given until June 8 to get their paperwork. About 400 professors, administrators and other staffers were laid off by the sudden closure of the private liberal arts college, which has another campus in Brookhaven. Rumors leading up to Dowling’s demise did little to prepare the Oakdale campus community for its sudden shuttering.
“I spent the whole day crying when I found out the news,” said Jessica Glaz, a Dowling freshman, as she fought back tears. Glaz, like all others interviewed for this story, was aware of the college’s fiscal woes, but believed the college’s promises that she would be able to graduate. “My mom wants me to go to NYIT, but I just can’t get over it,” she said.
Founded on the site of the William K. Vanderbilt estate overlooking the Connectquot River, Dowling saw enrollment plunge from 6,379 students in 2005 to 2,453 by the fall of 2014 as it struggled to repay $54 million in debt, according to The Associated Press. Other small private colleges nationwide have also folded recently for similar reasons. Briarcliffe College, which has campuses in Bethpage and Patchogue, announced six months ago that it is closing in 2018.
“As painful as this announcement is we want the student body, faculty and alumni to know that we made every effort to form a suitable academic affiliation so that we could keep the college open,” said Albert Inserra, the seventh Dowling president in 12 years, in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Some Dowling students said they first heard the news that their college was closing from the media, not the administration.
“I feel like this was really shady…I didn’t even receive an e-mail,” said Jordan Beavers, a Dowling senior and physical education major from Levittown. He shook his head furiously. “I feel like the school lied to everybody.”
Questions linger about what will happen to scholarships, sports careers and tuition already paid. Some said Dowling should have stopped accepting applicants.
“They lied to everyone. They should have stopped admitting new students,” said one staffer who asked not to be named. “I always have other options so I’m not that worried, but I feel bad for everyone else.”
To ease the transition, Dowling set up a partnership with Rockville Centre-based Molloy College, which will waive some credits and allow students to continue their studies there. Other colleges and universities on Long Island have also offered to help Dowling students. Suffolk County Community College offered to waive the transfer fee as well as defer immunization and transcript requirements for Dowling freshman and sophomores.
“This is a sad day for all of the members of that college family,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “The economic impact is significant and something we’ll be concerned about.”
Matt Smith, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers, the union that represents the 47 full-time and 78 adjunct professors, said the situation was fluid.
“We’re disappointed with the outcome,” he said, noting that the faculty took pay cuts in 2012 and 2014, as well as other steps to help keep the college open. “We consider this a very sad and tragic outcome for the students, the community and our members.”
Smith added that the professors are doing their best to help the students transfer despite the fact that the professors’ own futures are uncertain. Students confirmed that their professors were being very accommodating, placing blame on the administration. The union refused to point fingers.
“I’m concerned about my students,” said Mary Ellen Friedemann, an adjunct English professor who taught freshman writing classes. “Clearly none of them are graduating.”
Although many of Dowling’s suddenly disenrolled students were distraught by the closure, some are making the best of a bad situation—perhaps the most important lesson of their budding college careers.
“We all saw this coming, but we hoped the school would pull through,” said Aaron Henderson, a second-generation Dowling student who was a sophomore majoring in psychology. “I am going to use this time to get out of my comfort zone, and maybe go to school in Fredonia.”