A Turbulent Decade: Delgado in the 1970s

By: Tony Cook
The 1970s were a decade marked by tremendous social and cultural changes, including integration of public schools, legalization of abortion, and the end of American military operations in Vietnam. The years also may be viewed as the pinnacle of America’s post-war economic might—despite the economic hardships created by the oil crisis and runaway inflation. This was the era when Americans explored the surface of the moon; when the automobile industry produced 20-foot long behemoths clad in chrome and burning a gallon of gas every seven miles; when the World Trade Center towers opened in New York City as the world’s tallest buildings.

Delgado’s history during the 1970s is also marked by significant, often dramatic, changes.  Access to education was a national issue, and at Delgado there were many developments that affected educational access and the quality of instruction and guidance delivered to students. Here are details about a few of those developments, and some of the national issues that affected Delgado and New Orleans at the time.

West Bank Campus destroyed by fire.
Delgado’s West Bank Campus opened in the fall of 1967 in a former Navy building in Algiers—the only public higher education institution west of the Mississippi River in the New Orleans region. The campus achieved an enrollment of about 500 in its first two years of operation. A devastating fire that destroyed the original building, and lack of financial resources, forced Delgado to close the West Bank Campus in 1970. After a new building was constructed, the campus reopened in 1974 with 750 students.

Delgado gains accreditation.
Delgado was accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 1972. To earn and maintain this accreditation, Delgado complies with the standards, policies, and procedures of the Commission on Colleges of SACS. The commission applies its requirements to all institutions, regardless of whether public, private for-profit, or private not-for-profit. SACS is the recognized accreditation organization for the 11 states in the South, and Latin America.

Men on the moon.
Following two successful landings of Apollo spacecraft on the surface of the moon in 1969, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched five more manned missions to Earth’s closest celestial neighbor between 1970 and 1972. One of these, Apollo 13, did not complete its mission of landing on the lunar surface, but all the rest were highly successful. Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 took teams of three astronauts into lunar orbit, and landed two men per mission on the moon to conduct experiments and explore the surface. The last two men to set foot on the moon—in December 1972—were Harrison Schmitt, 37, a geologist from New Mexico, and Navy Captain Eugene Cernan, 38. 

West Bank Campus reopens.
Delgado’s West Bank Campus reopened in a modern one-story building on an expansive 13 acres in Algiers in 1974. That building was supplemented in 1979 by a new technical laboratory building housing art department facilities and faculty offices as well as automotive and welding shops. Col. Floyd M. Long was executive dean of the West Bank Campus during this rebuilding period. More than half of the 1800 students at the West Bank Campus in 1979 were enrolled in arts and sciences and business classes. Two other divisions, occupational technologies and engineering, offered the rest of the curriculum at the West Bank Campus, where more than half of the courses met at night.

A Southern president.
Jimmy Carter, a farmer and businessman from the hamlet of Plains, Georgia, was elected president of the United States in 1976—the first native of the so-called Deep South to achieve that office since Virginian Zachary Taylor’s election in 1848. A former governor of Georgia, Carter ran as an outsider, someone independent of the Washington, D.C., political establishment. An electorate made skeptical of politics following the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 elected him over an incumbent un-elected president, Gerald Ford. Carter’s initial popularity—he famously stepped out of his limousine to walk beside his wife, Rosalyn, in his inaugural parade—evaporated as inflation spiraled in the U.S. and foreign relations eclipsed his domestic agenda to increase employment and prosperity. Armed militants took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979 and held them until the day that Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter as president in 1981.

Change of leadership.
In June 1979, Dr. Marvin E. Thames resigned as president of Delgado after more than 26 years leading the college. Under his leadership, which began in 1953, Delgado grew from a one-site trades school (the City Park Campus) to a multi-parish, comprehensive community college with more than 10,000 students. In August 1979, Dr. Harry J. Boyer was named president of Delgado. He was a vice president, provost, and dean of education on the City Park Campus before becoming president. Boyer targeted as his priorities the consolidation of services and streamlining of the more than 70 certificate and associate’s degree programs at Delgado. Boyer held a doctorate in higher education from East Texas State University and earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.

—Dr. Harry J. Boyer, Delgado President, The Louisiana Weekly, 11 August 1979.

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