In Memoriam: Albert W. Brown and Paul Yu
The former College presidents left legacies still felt on campus decades after their service.
SUNY Brockport has lost two visionary leaders in the past five months. Albert W. Brown, who served as president of the College from 1965 to 1981, passed away April 17 at age 95. Paul Yu, president from 1997 to 2004, passed away December 5 at age 75.
The two are credited with raising the College’s profile to new heights and giving the institution the shape it proudly operates within today.
When Brown took office, large-scale academic changes were underway, as the College had recently adopted a liberal arts curriculum, having formerly been a State Teachers College and then becoming part of the newly established SUNY system in 1948. Many of the departments still active today were established under Brown, including biology, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics, physics, and psychology (having formerly been grouped together into “biological sciences” and “physical sciences” majors); history and political science (formerly members of the “social sciences” major); English and philosophy as distinct entities within the humanities; and the Department of Nursing.
Brown also oversaw the construction of Drake Memorial Library, the Tuttle Athletic Complex, and the Allen Administration Building, as well as the creation of new transfer opportunities for two-year college graduates, the Alternate College (now Delta College), Brockport Student Government (BSG), the Brockport Foundation, the Black Student Liberation Front (now the Organization of Students of African Descent), the Educational Opportunity Program, the Washington Semester Program, and many other programs still going strong.
During his tenure, student enrollment boomed from 3,000 to nearly 12,000, and faculty numbers increased correspondingly, with a greater emphasis on research and publication.
In 2006, in recognition of Brown’s significant impact on the Brockport campus, the College renamed its Faculty Office Building the Albert W. Brown Building.
“As an institution, we owe so much of what we are today to Dr. Brown and his visionary leadership,” said President Heidi Macpherson. “I was honored to meet Dr. Brown last year. He had a brilliant and engaging mind, a quick wit, and an unprecedented dedication to public higher education.”
A memorial service for Brown will be held at St. Luke’s on Friday, June 30, at 10 am.
Building on the momentum initiated by Brown and by John E. Van de Wetering, who served as president between them from 1981 to 1997, Yu is widely credited with transforming Brockport’s academic reputation.
Yu introduced the Presidential Scholars program, which proved instrumental in attracting top students to apply to Brockport and giving them incentives to maintain a high GPA. He also initiated the Extraordinary Academic Scholarship Program, aiding in the College’s rise to “Tier 2” within SUNY’s rankings of academic quality for incoming students. Brockport became recognized throughout New York and within the SUNY system as an innovative and dynamic institution.
Yu also acquired the latest information technologies, including new equipment and services in the campus computer labs; improved campus communications; and introduced and guided mission review and strategic planning initiatives that involved multiple committees representing every area of campus life.
The Honors Program (now the Honors College) grew and prospered during his tenure, and the strong academic culture assisted in an improved recruitment for study abroad programs and international students.
“It’s not easy raising the academic profile of a college, and Brockport’s rise during Dr. Yu’s tenure was achieved while always focusing on student success,” President Macpherson said. “SUNY Brockport is a better institution because of Paul Yu.”
Both presidents fostered positive relationships with the student body, for which they are fondly remembered.
In 1976, Ken O’Brien, associate professor in the Department of History, ran a discussion series in the Mortimer Hall lounge that helped students connect with faculty and staff. The capstone event featured Brown.
“If there had been a fire marshal there, we would have been in trouble; the place was packed,” O’Brien said. “Al dominated that room in a way I’ve seen few people do. He let them know that he accepted the responsibility for Brockport. This was his place.”
“Dr. Yu was a principled man with a deep love for each individual student; he cared about students on a real human level,” said Ryan Nobles ’98, now a CNN correspondent, who served as BSG president during Yu’s first year in office. “That one year left a lifelong impression on me.”
While much of Yu’s focus may have been on academic prestige, he knew how to unwind, too.
“He was the perfect example of how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Nobles added. “He was quiet, always professional and dignified — so when he’d drop a one-liner perfectly timed for the setting, it would leave the entire room laughing for minutes on end.”
Memorial gifts can be made to the Albert W. and Marjorie H. Brown Scholarship or the Dr. Paul Yu Extraordinary Academic Scholarship Fund through the Brockport Foundation (SUNY Brockport, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport, NY 14420).