Op-Ed By Edmund Haffmans

To the Editor:

It’s already been over two months since New Paltz sent at least six busloads of students and community folks to the historic Climate March in NYC. But few of today’s students are aware that four decades ago, (that’s ten student “generations”), New Paltz was on the cutting edge of activism around clean energy. Few know of the struggles that went down when the corporations that control the SUNY Board of Trustees saw fit to push back against Solar Power and energy awareness on campus.

During Vietnam, when students went on strike to protest military recruiting on campus, and the Kent State Massacre, College President John Neumaier walked out in solidarity. Alternative learning seminars held during this strike led to the founding in 1971 of the “Experimental Studies Department” (Later “Innovative Studies”). By 1973, 800 students were enrolled in about 50 courses, many student generated and run. The course “Student Generated Housing” led to the founding of the Environmental Site on the old college dump behind Maintenance.

At little or no cost to the College, students, with community support, cleaned up the land, and built eight dwellings, mostly or partially solar heated. There was an organic garden, chickens, a windmill, a unique solar workshop and almost a methane digester. A consensus governed community of about 12 students lived in these houses.

In 1979 the Advanced Solar Design and Grant Writing classes joined forces and won a grant from the Department of Energy (D.O.E.) to build a beautiful four bedroom earth sheltered oak post and beam passive solar dorm with solar greenhouse.  The influx of money set off alarm bells in Albany. At the time, Chase Manhattan Bank, with direct corporate interlocks to seven major oil corporations, dominated the Board of Trustees, and Central Hudson was on the College Council.

In 1980, the year of Ronald Reagan and the John Lennon assassinations, the first ever  woman SUNY president, Alice Chandler, took the throne, almost immediately targeting the Site, forcing residents into dorm rooms and sparking widespread student protests and community outrage.

In June 1981 during the Clearwater Revival, the Environmental Site was bulldozed, excepting the Solar workshop, D.O.E., and Eccli house (which burned on a a rainy November night in 1985). The Innovative Studies Department was abolished. The Administration blocked any student use of the D.O.E. funded house, and in 2006 it was bulldozed.

Various other energy conservation programs were sabotaged by Administration non-cooperation (see “Energy Conservation at SUNY: a Bureaucratic Shell Game,” Oracle, 4/2/81) .

Where would we be today if these and similar programs nationally had been supported? Incredibly, WAMC’s SUNY New Paltz political scientist Dr. Alan Chartock, interviewed Chandler for an hour (9/19/13) with nary a peep about the whole episode.

The Solutions Project – 100% Renewable Energy shows how we could phase out all fossil fuels and nukes by 2050 by a serious willingness and effort to do so. What if we had started 40 years ago? Most of the basic technologies, including photovoltaics were in place back then. Would the Iraq oil war and others have happened? How many billion barrels would still be in the ground? How much less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Fracking? Pilgrim and XL pipelines? Fugeddabout it!

What is SUNY doing today about forward looking energy strategies?Is the contentious Parke Pointe project to be built in “Passiv Haus,”  Zero net energy usage style? If not, why not? All state buildings should be! Shouldn’t there be an entire Sustainability Department at our beloved University?

We have many more gadgets today, and shinier malls. But the need for eternal vigilance remains. Learn from the past. The University needs to become a leader educating for the people, not for corrupt corporate masters.

Edmund Haffmans

SUNY New Paltz 1981