By Steve Sears
William Paterson (1745-1806), New Jersey signer of the Constitution, the state’s second governor, and a United States Supreme Court Justice, would be very proud of the “school on the hill” bearing his name.
William Paterson University (WPU) has grown significantly in size in 163 years, and what it means and gives to its students, and the communities and state of which it is a part, substantiates its importance. As of 2018, it enrolls nearly 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students, including 2,600 resident students. WPU has roughly 76,000 living alumni, including more than 60,000 alumni living in the Garden State.
At 370 total acres, WPU is sometimes a challenging place to walk, especially in the winter time, when crisp winds engage the school and snow sometimes dots its landscape. However, this aspect also enhances the charm of New Jersey’s third oldest public institution. A part of the towns of Wayne, North Haledon, and Haledon, there’s something very special about traversing its sidewalks, and gaining a superior education is the supreme benefit.
“At William Paterson University, we strive to educate the next generation of leaders. Our mission has been remarkably consistent,” says Richard J. Helldobler, PhD, who assumed the role of President following the retirement of Kathleen Waldron in 2018. “This university has been changing and transforming lives during its entire history, since its founding in 1855 as a normal school to train teachers. Today, we are a comprehensive university with extensive program offerings that prepare diverse students for high-demand jobs at an affordable cost. We have an important impact on lives and the economy of our communities, region, state, and nation.”
Recently designated as a Hispanic-serving institution with more than 25 percent of its students claiming Hispanic heritage, WPU houses five colleges – Arts and Communication, Cotsakos School of Business, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Science and Health – which support 52 bachelor and 24 master’s degree programs and offers more than 250 degree and non-degree programs. The school also added doctoral programs in 2011 and 2015, and the curriculum is delivered by more than 400 full-time faculty.
Founded as Paterson City Normal School in 1855, it then focused on training teachers for the growing community Paterson public schools. In 1875, the school added a one-year (which eventually became two years) teacher training curriculum for high school graduates who wanted to become teachers.
In 1910, the school moved its roots to School No. 24 on Paterson’s 19th Avenue and East 22nd Street. It remained there for 40 years, and in 1923, New Jersey State Legislature, assuming responsibility for teacher preparation, passed an act to establish New Jersey State Normal School at Paterson. Per the 1929-30 school catalog, its aim was “to develop a well-trained teacher for service in the schools of the State.”
In 1936, the school started offering general college courses to students opting for careers other than teaching, in addition to a four-year general elementary curriculum. The school was renamed New Jersey State Teacher’s College at Paterson in April 1937, and a degree-granting curriculum was then established. An adult school and nursing program were added in 1938 and 1939 respectively, a kindergarten/primary curriculum in 1943, and in 1943 a reading clinic. When World War II began, a child care center and college unit of the Red Cross were formed. As veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill, enrollment blossomed, and the New Jersey State Teacher’s College at Paterson sought new property with extra room for expansion. It found it in1948, when the state of New Jersey purchased the Wayne estate of Garrett Hobart for $200,000.00. The 250-acre site became the college’s new home in 1951. Full advantage was taken of the added space as the first graduate program in education was added in 1955, and the school was renamed Paterson State College in 1958, the same year the college was acknowledged for accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
1962 saw the opening of the college’s first residence hall for students, and a few years later, degree courses other than education were added to the curriculum, and faculty count had grown to 212. A year later, state mandate required the college transform into a multipurpose liberal arts institution.
The college in 1971 was renamed William Paterson College of New Jersey. With the name change came future evolution and expansion of facilities and programs, and the 125th anniversary of the college was celebrated in 1980 as the school established a Distinguished Lecturer Series. As growth continued, the school petitioned the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education for university status, and in June of 1997, the school was officially named William Paterson University of New Jersey.
The school purchased the 50-acre former headquarters of Union Camp Corporation at 1600 Valley Road in 2000, renovated and reopened it in 2002, and increased the university’s academic facilities by 25%. Also, in 2001, Christos M. Cotsakos and Tami Cotsakos, who graduated in 1973 and 1971 respectively, donated the largest gift in William Paterson University, $10.5 million dollars. The business school was renamed The Christos M. Cotsakos College of Business, and an endowment was made to the the Cotsakos Family Scholarship, and the Tami Cotsakos ’71 Scholarship in Music.
WPU has been awarded many accreditations, including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, National Association of Schools of Art and Design, National Association of Schools of Music, and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and more. The college continues to expand its facilities, including its Science building in 2012, and the brand new 80,000 square foot University Hall, unveiled in 2016. Two other renovations of note, Preakness Hall (former the HUnziker Wing) and Hunziker Hall, were scheduled to be completed in 2018.
A key thing about William Paterson University is its requirement that new undergrad students take a civic engagement course as a way of giving back to the community as well. Most recently, nearly 2,000 students completed 62 different civic engagement courses and contributed 10,000 hours of community service projects. One of the founding members of Campus Compact New Jersey, the statewide affiliate of the national Campus Compact that promotes public and community service to develop students’ citizenship skills, WPU is the first public college or university in New Jersey with a civic engagement requirement as part of its University Core Curriculum.
William Paterson University’s main campus is located at 300 Pompton Road in Wayne. Visit www.wpunj.edu for more information, or call (973) 720-2000.