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Nov 19, 2013 2:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Resident Recalls The Life And Demise Of Southampton College

Nov 19, 2013 3:59 PM

Since retiring from teaching in 1998, Southampton Village resident Dr. John A. Strong has worked on many projects.He has penned two books about Native American history on Long Island, “The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700” and “We Are Still Here! The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today,” was the lead witness in a court case surrounding Algonquian Indians, and spent time with family.

With all of those distractions, it is hard to see how he could have had time to write another book, “Running On Empty: The Rise and Fall of Southampton College, 1963-2005,” a roughly 325-page anthology recounting the at times controversial history—and subsequent closing—of Southampton College. Last week, Dr. Strong, now 78, gave a talk about the book and his experiences with Southampton College, at the Southampton Historical Museum.

“Well, the book itself is a kind of bittersweet memorial from my standpoint, and all of the people who were involved with it to any great extent,” Dr. Strong said in an interview this week. “The task was a little bit difficult because it was like oil and water—it was about the failures and inadequacies from the Long Island University administration, the problems of running a college without an endowment because you are stuck with admissions and have no money to develop and improve. We were always kind of running on empty.”

Dr. Strong was inspired to write the book through his career at the college. He joined the faculty at Southampton College, which was a part of Long Island University and often called the “jewel in the university crown,” in 1965 as a history professor. He remained at the college until 1998, when he retired.

Upon his retirement, Dr. Strong was asked by the then provost of the college, Tim Bishop, to collect information about the school to be used as a reference for future grant applications, and for reports to the Middle States Association and the New York State Department of Education. Although it was not his primary focus at the time—and often put on the back burner for other projects—the book took on more prominence in the spring of 2005, when it was announced that the college would close. Originally determined to abandon his project for the college, Dr. Strong changed direction, and instead focused the book on how and why the college failed.

“When the college closed, the first inclination was to pack up all the stuff and just leave it,” Dr. Strong said. “But I decided that there was a more interesting story to be told. The faculty and the alumni who knew what I had been doing suggested I keep going, to preserve the memory of the college and their experiences.”

Over the past five years, Dr. Strong has conducted countless interviews about Southampton College, including with its alumni, staff and administrators. He has logged more than 200 hours worth of interviews, all of which are being preserved through the Southampton Historical Society, the Southampton Town historian’s office, and the Southampton Town clerk.

The book was officially released in June. Since then, Dr. Strong has made two public appearances promoting it, one at the Southampton Historical Museum and one at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.

Now, he is returning his attention to Native American culture and writing another book about 17th-century Native American whalers on the East End. This book, he said, will focus on the transitions they faced with the first appearance of Europeans on their lands, and how the whaling industry took off and almost killed off an entire species.

Dr. Strong’s book “Running on Empty: The Rise and Fall of Southampton College, 1963-2005” is available for purchase through the Southampton Historical Museum.

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