SALAMANCA — For those seeking post-secondary education in the Salamanca area, a new community college is taking up residence right on Main Street.
Dr. Harold Beck, a Pennsylvania native and part-time Salamanca resident, is president of the new Cornplanter College, which he hopes will begin classes in the spring.
Dr. Beck has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English and a PhD in applied linguistics. He is also a self-published author, having written a fictional book about the legendary Seneca Chief Cornplanter — the namesake and inspiration of his college.
“Chief Cornplanter is probably one of the most ignored, significant figures in our history … and his own people didn’t even understand him, that’s the thing,” said Dr. Beck, “When Chief Cornplanter finally made peace with the new government, he wanted to bring the best educational practices and the best technology to his people. He knew the importance of everyone living together, sharing ideas and sharing cultures.”
At Cornplanter College, Dr. Beck and his staff plan to incorporate an alternative educational philosophy in their curriculum. Feeling strongly that current academic environments have failed students, Dr. Beck hopes to return to a time “before No Child Left Behind and incompetent government involvement.”
“The idea is to be student centered and have students treat school like a job. There’s no homework, all work is done in class and a student doesn’t move on in a subject until they pass each section. The only way a student fails is by not attending class and failing to complete work,” he said. “I think theres a work ethic that’s missing in the kids that are coming out of high school. Our goal is to educate them about the material we’re presenting, but also teach them about life and what to expect in the work place.”
Dr. Beck says he feels this is particularly true for Seneca children in the area, but is a problem that can affect any student.
“The Seneca children, whether they’re in middle school, grade school or high school, no one wants to use the word but there’s a lot of racial prejudice there,” he said. “Teachers really can’t be bothered, there are some dedicated people but for the most part they don’t have time.
“The ones that do graduate fail the first year because they’re not prepared. What we aim to do is make up for what high school has failed to do for them. That’s not specifically tailored to the Seneca children — that’s tailored to all children.
“I recall sitting in on educational meetings in the Nation and people talking about how the children being educated and they were concerned about the number of students on suspension or the number that just quit, and I didn’t see anyone offering any solution to it.”
Dr. Beck declined to identify anyone in particular he had spoken with in the Nation regarding the college, saying he did not want to leave anyone out.
A project three years in the making, the school still has work to do in terms of funding and obtaining official accreditation. At this time, all faculty and staff are foregoing pay until the school can on its feet financially. According to Dr. Beck, the initial funding for the school is being provided by a “group of interested doctors in Florida.”
“Now I’m down here meeting with the investors, letting them know where we are and what we need to do,” Dr. Beck said in a phone interview on Friday.
He also said the college cannot begin the official accreditation process until classes have started and instructors and curriculum can be evaluated, but assured The Press that it was a top priority.
“Our goal is to make Cornplanter College a significant institution of higher learning,” he said.
Originally advertised to begin classes Jan. 6 of this year, Dr. Beck admitted a January start may have been a bit ambitious considering the amount of work necessary.
“We’ve been working on this college for years now and it’s finally come to fruition. It’s not happening as fast as I want it to, but nothing ever does,” he said. “We rented the store fronts (on Main Street) and I thought we would be moving in desks and computers next week, but then realized that just wasn’t going to happen. If you go by you’ll see people still painting and working now.”
According to the college president, the school will offer two- and four-year degrees in over 35 subjects. Among those listed on the website are massage therapy, criminal justice, journalism, hotel management, restaurant management, medical sciences, forestry, nursing, graphic art and design, computer science and business.
At this time there is no course catalog or faculty list available on the web page. Regarding the college staff, Dr. Beck claims the school will have “more PhD’s per capita than other schools in the area,” but would not release any names until all faculty were under contract.
(This story appears in the Jan. 16, 2014 edition of The Salamanca Press.)