The York College Performing Arts Center officially received a new name in honor of the late President Emeritus Milton G. Bassin at a dedication ceremony held on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
The building held the designation informally since Bassin’s passing in 2012.
As the longest serving president of York College, from 1971 until his retirement in May 1991, Bassin was known for giving York College its first official campus in Jamaica, Queens. After the first president served three years at the college, Bassin stepped in, bringing the college through times of serious financial trouble.
“There were times when people wondered if York College would survive,” said Marcia Comrie, an advancement associate in York’s Institutional Advancement, recalling a picture that ran in Pandora’s Box during the 70’s. The picture, Comrie said, showed a coffin with “R.I.P. York” inscribed on it. At times, Bassin was urged to reduce York to a community college, but refused.
“York College was never a community college,” said Comrie, who attended York under Bassin’s leadership. “But there was a time in the 70’s that there were suggestions that it should be a community college as opposed to a senior college. That never happened. President Bassin was not going to let that happen.”
Bassin rallied faculty, students and community leaders, lobbying Albany and City Hall to get York College an official campus. In 1986, York’s academic core building opened. It was also the first to be built under Bassin’s presidency.
While the faculty as a whole had little-to-no input in the naming of the building, most seem to be content with the decision. “The naming happened without any formal input or consultation from the faculty caucus. I was contacted after the fact and was told some senior faculty liked the idea,” said professor Theresa Rooney, leader of the faculty caucus.
Theater professor Tim Amrhein, a member of the college’s foundation board, learned earlier than other faculty about the renaming. He said he hoped that future buildings will be named after legacy performing arts faculty such as Barbara Nickolich and James Como, who founded the performing and fine arts program in the 60’s. Nickolich and Como developed the theater and speech majors in the college.
Dolores Swirin-Yao, Vice-President of Institutional Advancement, said that size really doesn’t matter in this case.
“It was really to give his name recognition and visibility,” she said.
Since the Performing Arts Center is more often used for college and community events, Bassin’s name will be more visible than it would on any other building.
However, CUNY has an official process for naming buildings, according to University rules. The process lists two reasons for naming buildings after people, donating large sums of money to the University or a significant contribution to the college set at $15 million. Neither Bassin nor any estate in his name donated the sum, based on a review of York College’s tax documents filed last year.
During Basin’s tenure, though, around $200 million was put into the construction of the York College campus. Bassin’s daughter, Lori Bassin recently joined York’s foundation board, continuing the Bassin legacy at York. Since Bassin died, his family continues to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships to students attending the college.
The ceremony was held in the building bearing his name, where Bassin’s retirement was also held. It was the last building built under Bassin’s presidency, said Comrie.
“I think that once he had accomplished that, he felt he was free to retire and enjoy himself. It was a retirement well earned,” she said.