By Lizz Panchyk
The Ruth S. Harley University Center, commonly known as the UC, was originally built in 1970. A renovation and expansion to the original building was completed just last year in February 2021, and it has once again become a warm and welcoming space for students. It’s a place to hang out before class or to take online classes, and it’s always busy with a line at the new Starbucks and seats occupied by students. But how many of us stop to wonder who this building is named after?
In honor of National Women’s Month, we're honoring a very important woman of our Adelphi community, Ruth S. Harley. She was the daughter of a Latin teacher in Flatbush, Brooklyn and attended Adelphi when it was still located in Brooklyn. She graduated from Adelphi College in 1924 and received a master’s degree in personnel administration from New York University in 1925. After graduation, she wound up teaching Latin at Adelphi, then became secretary to the dean and then an assistant to the registrar’s office. When Adelphi relocated to Garden City, she followed and became the registrar in 1932. On the Garden City campus, she organized the College Placement Bureau, which helped students find jobs after graduation, and was in charge of student housing. She served as Dean of Women and then Dean of Students at Adelphi from 1942 to 1970, as well as being an Adelphi alumna of the Class of 1924.
In 1944, when World War II was raging, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Adelphi to help celebrate the opening of three new dormitories that were built to house new nursing students, as nursing was the primary focus of Adelphi during this perilous time period. Dean Harley sat next to Mrs. Roosevelt on the stage that day, and remembered in a 2000 interview that the First Lady was “very, very friendly, very kind, and very outgoing.”
During the war, Harley also served as supervisor of the engineer science management course, a special Victory training program.
This was a woman who was dedicated to her students as well to campus goings-on and activities. Even after she retired, she was an active member of the university, as she was a part of the Adelphi Association Board and the President’s Advisory council, according to “Garden City News.” She participated in campus events at the very building that was named after her even as she approached the age of 100.
According to the AU website timeline page: “Following her retirement in 1970, she was appointed Dean Emeritus, a scholarship fund and student center were named in her honor, and the Ruth Stratton Harley Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award was established in 2004.”
Dean Harley died in July 2005 at the age of 103. She was fondly remembered by several generations of Adelphi alumni and faculty. Her decades of dedication to Adelphi and her activeness within the community even throughout her later years made her a perfect candidate for having her name and memory honored right on campus.
The UC has come a long way since being referred to in a 1970 newspaper article as a “giant red bird that crashed onto the lawn behind the administration building” to a much beloved, completely renovated student center.
To quote Ruth Harley herself when the building was named for her: “I won’t need a tombstone.”