The Adanti Era

After Harrison’s departure, Southern was in a state of confusion; Connecticut State University system, Dr. Frost was appointed acting president for a month, long enough to allow the university to return to normal. During this month, Frost was measuring interest in Michael J. Adanti.
Adanti, the Southern alum who had come to the rescue in 1981 was still fondly remembered at SCSU. Many on campus concluded that he would be the best choice for the presidential job opening.
In Engleman’s largest auditorium, Frost announced to a crowd of Southern people and local reporters that the board would endorse Adanti. Allegedly the reaction was as enthusiastic as victory cheers by Southern football fans.
Adanti was a unique choice for the position. As the new president himself announced, “It’s safe to say I am not a traditional academic.” Adanti and the first Southern principal Morrill were the only leaders in the school’s history without doctorates. What made Adanti even more interesting was his connection to Southern- he graduated the school in 1963. Adanti was the first alum to hold the title of president. Besides being a Southern graduate, Adanti was also a former captain of the Southern football team. One of Adanti’s goals as president was to increase minority representation on campus. He said on several occasions that he wanted SCSU to be a part of the community in which it resided. During Adanti’s first semester in New Haven, fewer than one in twenty full-time undergraduates was an African-American and fewer than one in one hundred students was of Hispanic background. Only five out of 406 professors were African-American, and not one had full professor rank. Three years later, Adanti announced an effort to recruit minority candidates for teaching and administration and revealed that the number of full-time African-American students had increased by slightly more than fourteen percent. By that time, Sandra Cavanaugh Holley, a specialist in communication disorders had been promoted to full professor, the first black person to hold that position on campus. These accomplishments came on the heels of visits by two important African-American leaders. Benjamin Hooks, the executive director of the NAACP, came to Southern to speak during Black History Month, and Oprah Winfrey arrived a few days later to help raise money for the SCSU Black Scholarship Fund.

SCSU Archive Photos

President Michael J. Adanti, second from left, led a group of more than 500 in a unity march on April 26, 1989.

Unfortunately, just as the campus was moving forward with minority relations, something terrible happened. On March 11, 1989, a Saturday evening, a fight broke out on the bridge over Fitch Street between twenty-five white fraternity members and six black students. The university responded immediately, announcing the appointment of Gayle Hooker as the first minority affairs director in the Connecticut State University system the next week and implementing a five-point plan to fight racism. Six weeks later, the largest civil rights demonstration at Southern in 20 years attracted more than 500 students, faculty and administrators. The University’s quick response transformed the fight into an opportunity to encourage campus unity and push forward with minority recruitment even more rapidly. By the beginning of the nineties, these efforts had achieved considerable success.

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