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June 22, 2015

Syracuse University and the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944

Syracuse University and the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944

Written by: Patrick M. Jones, Ph.D.

GI 9-16On June 22, 1944, with the D-Day landings just 16 days old, World War II was fully raging. American Naval and Air Forces were operating in every theater around the globe and American Ground Forces were fighting their way up the Italian peninsula, across France, throughout Burma, and on the island of Saipan. On campus back in Syracuse, the last class of Aviation Students from the Army Air Forces College Training Program had just graduated, bringing the university’s wartime military education programs to a close with over 4,200 soldiers, sailors, and airmen having been trained at Syracuse starting in Spring 1943; and the first three World War II veterans to enroll at Syracuse University had arrived in May. In the midst of all of this, President Roosevelt was planning for the Post-War era and signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill, on that day.

Syracuse University is intimately tied to the GI Bill from its inception to its implementation. Chancellor William P. Tolley, as president of the Association of American Colleges from 1942-1943, had worked with Congress in drafting the Bill’s language and promoting its passage. He believed that education was a cornerstone of the post-war future, writing in The 1945 Onondagan that, “if there is to be a brave new world, its foundation of truth and freedom will be prepared here. This is a task that calls for ideals as well as intelligence, for integrity as well as training, for faith and patience as well as courage and resolution. And from what I know of the men and women in Syracuse, I am sure that we will all do more than our part.”[1]

And do their part they did. The university community welcomed veterans with open arms and in unheard of ways. Veteran programs were developed that included an open admissions policy, guidance counseling, career services, and a variety of support services including remedial reading, counseling for those suffering from psychological trauma brought on by the war, special physical education courses for those with disabilities, therapy for those with speech problems, and instruction in lip-reading for veterans with hearing difficulties. If a veteran had left high school in order to enlist in the military, the university worked with local schools to transfer credit and have a diploma awarded. Finally, the university offered accelerated courses, a year-round schedule, and a placement program to help veterans find employment upon graduation.

The veterans responded by coming in droves, transforming the campus overnight. Whereas the Fall 1945 enrollment had been 4,391 students, it was 18,456 students in Fall 1947, of which 9,120 were veterans. To accommodate the explosion in enrollment the university erected 100 temporary classroom buildings on campus and bought land south of campus for housing where it installed 200 temporary buildings from the War Department, 22 barracks at Collendale, 600 military-style housing units at the former university farm, and 175 trailers for married students in an apple orchard at Drumlins. Students were also housed in a hotel, at a fraternal lodge, in former Army buildings in Mattydale and Baldwinsville, and at the New York State Fairgrounds.

Even with these additional buildings, the campus could not accommodate all of the returning veterans wanting an education. Syracuse addressed this by starting two branch campuses and joining with other universities in a consortium.  The two branch campuses were established in Endicott and Utica in 1946. The campus in Endicott is now SUNY Binghamton and the campus in Utica is today’s Utica College. The consortium, known as the Associated Colleges of the State of New York, offered classes at former barracks at Sampson on Lake Geneva, at Plattsburg on Lake Champlain, and at the abandoned Army barracks in Utica (Mohawk College).

Five years after the signing of the GI Bill, the explosion of veteran students began to subside. All freshmen were housed on campus in 1949 and what has come to be called the “GI Bulge” was over in 1951. In its wake, it left Syracuse University transformed from a relatively small regional college into an international research university. The major beneficiary, however, was a society transformed by a generation of university-educated veterans who went on to make the world a better place, each in his or her own way, with the ideals and intelligence, integrity and training, faith and patience, and the courage and resolution, of which Chancellor Tolley had written in 1945.

Syracuse University celebrates the anniversary of the GI Bill, embraces the vision it set forth as a means to repay veterans for their service and improve society, and is proud to have played a role in its realization. We remain committed to serving veterans of every generation. Today, Syracuse is embracing hundreds of veteran students who are attending the university on the Post-911 GI Bill. As current Chancellor Kent Syverud stated in his inaugural address on April 11, 2014, building on both our history and current capabilities, we will make Syracuse University “the best place for veterans.”

[1]William P. Tolley, “Chancellor William P. Tolley,” in The 1945 Onondagan, ed. Agnes Shoffner (New York, NY: Robert W. Kelly Publishing Corporation, 1945), 10-11.

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