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York College honors longest-serving president with performing arts building

By Juan Soto

Donald Vernon graduated from York College in 1990. Long before he moved his tassel from right to left, he led a group of students to lock the school campus down to protest tuition hikes.

“During that time, it was my opinion that President [Milton] Bassin did not care about us,” Vernon said. “But ,in fact, reflecting on it, I realized President Bassin was the best parent I ever had.”

Vernon was one of the guest speakers during the ceremony held at the CUNY Jamaica campus dedicated to the renaming of the college’s arts space as the Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center.

“Without Milt Bassin’s leadership, the York College campus may never have been built,” said Marcia Keizs, president of York College.

Bassin, who served as president from 1971 until his retirement in 1991, was instrumental in arranging the college’s move from Bayside to its current location. He was a strong supporter of a tuiton-free City University of New York.

Elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), family members, school officials and alumni, attended the celebration at the 50-acre campus located in the busy downtown Jamaica area.

“It is thanks to his tenacity that we now enjoy this state-of-the-art campus and celebrate the success stories of nearly 30,000 graduates,” said Keizs, referring to Bassin, who died Aug. 13, 2012.

During Bassin’s tenure, $200 million was spent on construction of the actual campus. It now has six buildings. He was the longest-serving president of York College, one of 11 senior colleges of the CUNY system.

York was inaugurated in 1967 and while waiting for the move to Jamaica, it was located on the campus of Queensborough Community College in Bayside. The old Montgomery Ward department store in Jamaica also housed temporary classrooms for the academic institution.

And only three years after Bassin became president, plans for the permanent campus in Jamaica were drafted.

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller vetoed the plan because of a statewide fiscal crisis.

“He assembled a coalition of the college community, education activists and elected leaders throughout Queens to ensure York would survive the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and build a campus right here in Jamaica,” the current York College president.

“As long as he was the leader of this institution, not only was he the father of the institution, he was the father of all of the students,” said Vernon, a practicing attorney with an office in downtown Jamaica.

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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