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CUNY SEEK and OA Oral Histories

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By Sean Molloy (6 Nov 2016) 

In September of 1965, CUNY began to voluntarily desegregate its virtually all-white four year colleges through a new “Pre Bac” Program that recruited 113 students from poor black and Hispanic Manhattan neighborhoods to attend City College.  Pre-Bac was an immediate success. Renamed SEEK ( Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) in 1966, it expanded in its second year to admit 732 SEEK students to City, Brooklyn and Queens colleges, serving students from poor neighborhoods across the City.  In 1967-68, six CUNY campuses admitted over 1,100 SEEK students (Berger 1968 Table 35).  In 1968-69, CUNY admitted over 1,600 new SEEK students.  By February of 1969, there were over 3,000 SEEK students enrolled and studying across CUNY (Berger 1969 Table 40). (A list of cited sources is here.)

After consulting with City College SEEK founders (Berger 1967), SEEK also expanded to SUNY. SUNY Buffalo  enrolled 249 SEEK students in 1967-68.  (Gould 1968). With expanded NYS funding  in 1968-69, SUNY Buffalo enrolled 190 new SEEK students and transferred 89 successful SEEK students to six SUNY campuses. That same year, new SEEK programs were formed at SUNY Albany, SUNY Cortland  and SUNY Purchase (Gould 1968).

SEEK proved that undervalued students could compete and succeed in elite four-year colleges.  Close to 40% of the 1965-67 incoming SEEK classes at City College graduated by mid-1972 (Frost 1972).

SEEK’s existence and success were critical to CUNY’s adoption of its Open Admissions Program beginning in the Fall of 1970.  SEEK programs have continue to operate across CUNY for fifty years; SEEK programs (renamed EOP) have also continued across SUNY.

These oral histories by CUNY students and teachers tell stories about the founding and early years of SEEK at City College (especially the writing instruction that was the heart of SEEK) as well as stories about teaching writing in the first decade of Open Admissions across CUNY.

Political scientist Allen B. Ballard  was one of the two key founders of the SEEK Program starting in 1965.  Francee Covington, Marvina White, and Eugenia Wiltshire were all City College students in the SEEK program beginning in 1966.   Francee was also an editor of the remarkable student newspaper that was first called The Tech News and then The Paper at City College.   “The Paper Homecoming” (produced and directed by Robert Espinoza and Dr.Janet Adams)  is a history of The Paper as told by a panel of its other early writers and editors.

Sondra Perl, John Brereton and Richard Sterling all taught writing at CUNY in the first years of the Open Admissions era.  Richard was also a night student at City College during the 1960s.

Allen B. Ballard: An Oral History of the CCNY SEEK Program,  43:24 (2014).  A transcript is here. In 1965, Allen Ballard helped City College to launch an educational opportunity program that became the model for new EOPs at dozens of New York colleges.  Ballard’s SEEK program combined an innovative admissions process and a holistically supportive teaching program.  It was an immediate success; close to 40% of its 1965-67 entering students graduated by 1972, proving that poor, working class students without traditional admissions qualifications could compete and succeed at an elite four year college. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Marvina White:  An Oral History of the CCNY SEEK Program. 43:17 (2015).  A transcript is here.  In 1966, Marvina White entered City College as one of the first class of SEEK students.  Here, Marvina remembers growing up in Manhattan, her first summer class with Barbara Christian, and her teachers and counselors at City College. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Francee Covington: An Oral History of the CCNY 1960’s SEEK Program and The Paper. 53:38 (2015)  In 1966, Francee Covington entered City College as one the first class of SEEK students.  Here, Francee remembers growing up in Brooklyn, her years as a City College student and her student journalism on The Paper. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Eugenia Wiltshire: An Oral History of the CCNY 1960’s SEEK Program. 39:24 (2015). Eugenia Wiltshire (then Dorothy Robinson) remembers growing up in Harlem, and entering City College in 1966 as one of the first class of SEEK students.  (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Sondra Perl: An Oral History of Teaching Writing at CUNY in the 1970s. 31:29 (2015)  Sondra Perl looks back growing up in New Jersey, her graduate studies at NYU, on the early years of her teaching at Hostos Community College and her writing process research which led her to develop a deeper understanding of writing process and process based teaching. Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.

John Brereton: An Oral History of Teaching Writing at Rutgers and Queensboro Community College. 44:36 (2015)  John Brereton remembers growing up in Staten Island, studying and teaching writing at Rutgers in the 1960s and teaching writing at QCC in the 1970s. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Richard Sterling: An Oral History of  Studying and teaching at CUNY (1966 to 1978) 45:53 (2015)  Richard Sterling  remembers coming to America as a young man, entering City College as a night student and becoming a writing teacher at CUNY. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Donald McQuade: An Oral History of Teaching At CUNY in the 1970s.  56:59 (2015) Donald McQuade remembers the Rutgers 1960s PhD Program, teaching writing at Queens College in the early days of Open Admissions, the CUNY Association of Writing Supervisors, and the founding of the WPA. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

Remembering the 1960’s SEEK English Program at City College. 16:37 (2015)  In these excerpts from the oral histories of Allen B. Ballard, Francee Covington and Marvina White, they remember the remarkable  SEEK English Program at City College. (Produced, directed and edited by Sean Molloy.)

The Paper Homecoming.  7:36 (2015) We are posting here a  youtube film by Robert Espinoza and Dr. Janus Adams of CCNY that includes a panel discussion by 1960-70s CCNY students Greg Holder, Al De Leon, Jeff Morgan, Charles Powell, and Jerry Mondeshire who published The Paper.

Allen Ballard Oral History Excerpts:

Ballard SEEK Oral History excerpt. 5:17 (2014) “After a while you see this…joy of learning coming into them.” Here, Ballard describes the SEEK “stretch” courses he designed in 1965 and the impact they had on students.

Ballard SEEK Oral History excerpt. 2:32 (2014) “They did it, first of all, by respecting the students.” Here, Ballard discusses the diving-in pedagogy of the 1960s SEEK English Program.

Ballard SEEK Oral History Excerpt. 6:48 (2014) “But with this hesitancy… about standards.” Here, Ballard recalls how City College seemed like a “White enclave” above Harlem in the early 1960s and how his idea for the SEEK Program was received by faculty with hesitancy about preserving standards.

Ballard SEEK Oral History Excerpt. 3:40 (2014) “the need for treating each and every human being with dignity.” Here, Ballard remembers Leslie Berger, the psychologist, teacher and administrator who became the program’s first administrator and who coined the term “SEEK”.

Ballard SEEK Oral History Excerpt. 6:43 (2014) “And finally, its become something that is essential to the… vitality of a college.” Here, Ballard discusses the successes and legacies of the SEEK program.