Filed Under Education

Cleveland State University

Desiring to place a public institution of higher learning within thirty miles of every Ohio resident, Governor James Rhodes proposed the establishment of a state university in Cleveland following a unanimous recommendation from the Ohio Board of Regents in June 1964. The result was House Bill No. 2, a bipartisan effort introduced to the House during a special session convened by Rhodes in November. The bill easily passed through the legislature and on December 18, 1964, Rhodes signed it into law. The new university assumed responsibility for Fenn College, making the campus its nucleus, and on September 27, 1965, classes officially began at Cleveland State University.

Fenn College was a small institution of 1,675 full-time students with only a few buildings comprising its campus including the 22-story Fenn Tower. CSU's first year saw enrollment jump to 3,416 full-time scholars and in order to accommodate the dramatic influx of students, military-style Quonset huts were erected for class instruction. Recognizing the need to expand, in March 1966 the Board of Trustees announced design plans for University Tower, Main Classroom, and the Science Building. Three years later under President Harold Enarson the Cleveland-Marshall Law School became part of Cleveland State, remaining at its location on Ontario Street until 1972 when the building was sold to make way for the new Justice Center. In 1977 Cleveland-Marshall's permanent building was completed on campus with Prince Charles presiding over the dedication of the school's new home. That same year CSU's second President, Walter Waetjen, announced the College of Urban Affairs would replace the Institute of Urban Studies, becoming the university's seventh college when its doors opened. Now called the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, it ranks #2 among schools of its kind in the country.

The 1980s in many ways proved to be a turbulent time for the young university. Over a period of several months in 1982 three people were slain on campus by Frank Spisak Jr. who was eventually apprehended in September and sentenced to death the following summer. The decade would close in controversy after a salary dispute led to the firing of administrator Raymond Winbush. The incident heightened racial tensions on campus and led to the student occupation of Fenn Tower in protest of his dismissal. Recruiting violations by the Men's Basketball program and the eventual demise of head coach Kevin Mackey added to the decade's despair, though the team would become a rallying point for the university in 1986. That year Mackey's Cinderella squad took the NCAA tournament by storm, advancing to the Sweet 16 before falling to Navy.

CSU had more to cheer about in 1991 as the long-awaited 13,610-seat Convocation Center was finally completed. Later renamed the Bert L. & Iris S. Wolstein Convocation Center, the venue has hosted a diverse array of events ranging from monster truck shows to a presidential debate. The new Convocation Center, however, could not prevent the turmoil that plagued the 1980s from spilling over into the 1990s as disputes between the administration and faculty led to the faculty unionizing while declining enrollment numbers forced the Board of Trustees to consider major cutbacks. Then, as the decade wound down and the world braced for Y2K, the PeopleSoft program the university used to manage financial aid records crashed unexpectedly. The fallout from this episode nearly forced CSU to close its doors and it took a number of years for the university to fully recover.

A new era was ushered in at CSU in 2001, however, when Michael Schwartz became Cleveland State's fifth  president. Under President Schwartz the university moved away from its open enrollment policy in implementing admissions standards, the honors program was established, and campus revitalization efforts commenced. These efforts included the construction of a new student center, increased campus housing, renovation of the law school building, and installation of the now iconic "CSU" letters on Rhodes Tower. Schwartz stepped down in 2009 with Ronald Berkman picking up the torch in his place. President Berkman, a unanimous selection by the Board of Trustees, has continued to improve CSU, notably orchestrating the construction of The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In 2014 Cleveland State celebrated its 50th  anniversary and while the first five decades may have been trying at times, CSU has transformed itself from an inward facing commuter campus to an outwardly directed anchor of the emerging Campus District. Beginning with a handful of buildings tucked away between East 24th  Street and the Innerbelt Freeway, Cleveland State now boasts eight colleges, over 200 academic programs, and an enrollment of some 17,000 students.


"The Potential Was Great" Speaker of the House William G. Batchelder III talks about the impact of CSU. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Remembering House Bill No. 2 Former State Representative William Taft talks about sponsoring House Bill No. 2. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"Make Sure They Keep it Downtown!" William Taft discusses Governor James Rhodes's desire to keep CSU downtown. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"The Neighborhood's Certainly Going to Change" Former State Representative Patrick Sweeney describes attending the unveiling of the CSU sign on September 1, 1965, and seeing laundry hanging in back of nearby tenement houses. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Diversifying "Caucasian State University" The late Dr. William Shorrock of the Department of History comments on CSU's evolving student demographics. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Monte Ahuja's Startup No Joke Monte Ahuja describes how his CSU coursework ultimately became his life's work. The CSU-bred business he chartered on April Fool's Day in 1975 grew into a global leader in automotive parts distribution. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"A Hotbed for the Broadcast Community" Ed "Flash" Ferenc relates how CSU became an incubator for radio talent in the 1970s. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
CSU's "Bat Signal" Michael Schwartz discusses the installation of the now iconic "CSU" letters on Rhodes Tower and the emotional impact they had. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection


City Wins New University
City Wins New University Although House Bill No. 2 enjoyed wide margins of victory in both the House and Senate considerable resistance to Cleveland State's establishment still existed. Other universities feared losing prospective students and state funds, there were concerns about the stability of Fenn's campus as the school's nucleus, and many felt CSU should be located outside the city where land was cheaper. Source: Plain Dealer, December 18, 1964 Date: December, 18 1964
Site Plan, 1965
Site Plan, 1965 The original site plan prepared for Cleveland State University envisioned leveraging federal urban renewal funds (which never materialized) to build a compact 65-acre downtown campus. Like the Erieview urban renewal plan created five years before, the CSU plan was a modernistic compound of interconnected three-story classroom buildings and plazas punctuated by several high-rise office buildings. It was to include parking garages "under almost the entire campus--enough for 8,000 autos," according to the text that accompanied this rendering. "In this way," the plan exuded, "a complete walk-and-talk campus is built above the city streets." Although the university never reached the projected 35-40,000 students, over time it came to resemble the plan to the extent that some observers quipped that CSU stood for "Concrete State University." Today's 17,000 students enjoy the fruits of more recent efforts to craft a campus where glass and green space soften CSU's once-fortress-like presence. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1965
Quonset Hut Buildings, 1950
Quonset Hut Buildings, 1950 After World War II, returning soldiers took advantage of the GI Bill to go to college in unprecedented numbers. At Fenn College, veterans found a familiar setting on campus. To accommodate the growing student body, Fenn College purchased a number of army surplus quonset hut buildings to hold classes and to use as an office annex to the overflowing Fenn Tower and Stillman Hall. When Fenn became CSU in 1965, the quonset huts were used again, this time to allow operations to continue while the university began its ambitious campus building project. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1950
Sign Unveiling, September 1, 1965
Sign Unveiling, September 1, 1965 Harry F. Burmester ceremoniously pulled aside a curtain concealing a modest wooden sign and with this act official operations at Cleveland State began. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: September, 1, 1965
The Press Nickname Contest, 1965
The Press Nickname Contest, 1965 In order to decide CSU's nickname, the Cleveland Press held a contest asking readers for submissions. The photo shows the selection committee at CSU sifting through the thousands of entries that were received. Six finalists were chosen and voted on by the student body with The Press awarding a $500 scholarship to the winner. Viktorious Vike was named the first mascot, succeeded by the comic strip character Hägar the Horrible. Later Vike assumed the role, and in 2007 CSU introduced its current mascot, Magnus. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1965
Cleveland State University Bookstore, ca. 1990
Cleveland State University Bookstore, ca. 1990 Formerly occupied by the Bell Motors Co., CSU's first bookstore was located on the south side of Euclid Avenue across from Fenn Tower and East 24th Street. The store remained in that location from 1966 to 2010 when it was moved to the new Student Center. The old building was torn down to make way for the Euclid Commons student housing development. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1990
University Tower Construction, 1969
University Tower Construction, 1969 Exhibiting the Brutalist design style that characterized CSU's early buildings, the 20-story structure looms over much older office buildings and tenements on now-defunct East 19th and 20th streets (now home to the Music and Communication Building). The tower was renamed Rhodes Tower in 1981, prompting The Plain Dealer to ask, "Does this mean all who study there will be Rhodes scholars?" Now emblazoned with green CSU logos, Rhodes Tower has become an icon for the university and a visible part of Cleveland's skyline. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1969
Going Away Luncheon For Harold Enarson, 1972
Going Away Luncheon For Harold Enarson, 1972 Enarson, pictured on the left with CSU's first Board of Trustees chairman James Nance, was the university's first president. Enarson left CSU to become president of Ohio State, famously firing legendary football coach Woody Hayes following an on-field altercation with a Clemson player in 1978. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1972
Main Classroom, 1976
Main Classroom, 1976 Two students examine a slab of stone that has fallen from a pillar under Main Classroom. Structural issues of this sort have been something the university has been forced to address throughout its history, most notably the discovery that University Tower was sinking shortly after its completion. The tower descended nearly twelve inches before finally settling. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Intramural Sports Center, 1985
Intramural Sports Center, 1985 Opening in 1972, "The Intramural Sports Center was a geodesic dome designed by Thomas T. K. Zung. A heavy snowstorm during construction in January 1971 caused the roof to sag, requiring the construction of a second exoskeleton of aluminum pipes and horizontal purlins. The dome contained two basketball courts, a training room, a combative area, dressing rooms, laundry, and offices. The building was razed in 2005 for construction of the Student Recreation Center." -Accompanying archival description. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1985
Campus Plan, 1971
Campus Plan, 1971 Signs such as these are familiar to Cleveland State students and alumni, as well as travellers along Euclid Avenue. The university has had several major campus development plans intended to correct the core of the original design, in which the campus was elevated, self-contained, and inward facing. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1971
Euclid Ave. and E. 18th St., 1980
Euclid Ave. and E. 18th St., 1980 Missing from this picture are several familiar structures, including the Music and Communications Building, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Annex, the West Parking Garage, and the "Innerlink" connecting each building. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1980


2121 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115


Joseph Wickens, “Cleveland State University,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 13, 2024,