Our History


50th Anniversary of the SUNY College of Optometry

The College will celebrate its 50th Anniversary throughout the year and concluding in June 2022. This also marks the 65th Anniversary of the Optometric Center of New York (OCNY) and the University Eye Center (UEC). Click here to view the UEC Calendar.


Columbia University opened the first university- based optometry program in the US, setting the stage for recognition of the profession.

Read Review of Optometry’s A Fight for the Right to Learn

The New York Commissioner of Education saw the benefit of Columbia’s program and passed a bill allowing only graduates of a university-affiliated school of optometry to qualify for the state board exam. This signaled the end of the apprenticeship system of licensure and initiated a new era in optometric education. [Excerpt from A Fight for the Right to Learn]

When Columbia’s optometry program closed, leaving a void in NY and the surrounding region, a small group of optometrists and philanthropists came together to form the Optometric Center of New York (OCNY), a health and education resource nonprofit.

After more than a decade of lobbying, Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the bill on April 14, 1971, officially establishing the State University of New York State College of Optometry. Dr. Alden N. Haffner became the founding president.

SUNY Optometry initially moved into an eight-story building on East 25th Street near Lexington Avenue in Manhattan where the OCNY had been operating a clinic for many years.

In addition to its educational and clinical responsibilities, the College also took over the OCNY’s research program, helping to establish the SUNY College of Optometry’s reputation as a major hub for vision science research that has continued to this day.

Shortly after opening, SUNY Optometry expanded its original home on East 25th Street to include space on East 23rd. Enrollment grew steadily for the next decade.

The College launched its first year-long, in-house residency program in vision therapy.

The inaugural graduation saw 17 students receive their degrees. Today, nearly 100 students graduate from SUNY Optometry each year adding to our more than 3,400 alumni nationally and abroad.

1975- Faculty on stage at 1st graduation

To accommodate the growth and expansion of programs, the College moved to East 24th
Street and Park Avenue, which would remain the College’s home for the next quarter century.

Dr. Edward R. Johnston was appointed as the College’s second president and remained until 1987.

Dr. Haffner returns from SUNY System to lead the College for a second time.

Dr. Haffner

SUNY Optometry moved to its current home across from Bryant Park, completing initial renovations the following year.

Built in 1912 for the Aeolian Piano Company, the building, which had most recently been occupied by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, originally housed the renowned Aeolian Hall which hosted numerous, highly-regarded performances in the 1910s and 20s. In fact, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” made its world debut at Aeolian Hall during a performance on the afternoon of February 12, 1924.

Dr. David A. Heath appointed the College’s third president after a national search following the retirement of Dr. Haffner.

Dr. Heath inauguration

The College adopted a comprehensive strategic plan entitled A Shared Vision, helping establish several key programs including the Graduate Center for Vision Research, the Center for International Programs, the Career Development Center, the MBA Certificate program and more.


The OCNY launched a $10 million, five-year campaign to support the ambitious and growing needs of the College. That same year, the clinic was renamed the University Eye Center (UEC) and the referral service was established.

Continued commitment to the success of our students and leadership
within vision research resulted in the completion of the Center for Student Life and Learning, including 20,000 square feet dedicated to study, laboratory, classroom, and recreation.

The Clinical Vision Research Center was also created to expand research and patient access to new therapies and treatments.


The College introduced a four-year Diversity Master Plan (2016–20) to improve recruitment and retention for underrepresented groups and a mission “to instill and celebrate diversity, inclusion, and equity in every aspect of the College’s operations.” Efforts included a Diversity Hackathon (2018) featuring over 70 diversity and inclusion experts from across the country.

Bringing health and eye care awareness to the greater community, the University Eye Center hosted the first Health and Wellness Expo on the College’s campus with nearly a dozen healthcare partners and over 700 attendees participating.

EXPO 2019

Expanding access to vision and eye care and addressing health disparities across the five boroughs, the College joined forces with NYC Health + Hospitals and Community Health Network.

Admist a global pandemic that forced shuts downs, record unemployment, and moved education to remote learning, the College succeeded in opening the Barbara Salzman Center for Pediatric Eye Care on April 1. All lectures moved to remote, synchronous learning along with many of the traditional events such as Commencement, White Coat Ceremony, and alumni events. The University Eye Center remained open and launched a telehealth program to ensure patient care remained accessible while simultaneously teaching the upcoming ODs how to traverse a new way of providing care.

First Patient at Pediatric Center
2022 White Coat
Service Patients-Community Teleheath

The College will celebrate its 50th Anniversary throughout the year and concluding in June 2022. This also marks the 65th Anniversary of the Optometric Center of New York (OCNY) and the University Eye Center (UEC).

Learn More

50th Class Begins Training at SUNY Optometry

The Class of 2025 at the State University of New York College of Optometry celebrates the start of their journey to become eye doctors. The group of aspiring optometrists made up of 98 new students, including 76 women, is the College’s 50th entering class since its founding in 1971.  Read More