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But changes beyond growth were in store for Queens College: in 1970, CUNY adopted the controversial policy of Open Admissions, which guaranteed a place at CUNY for any high school graduate in New York, regardless of traditional criteria like grades or test scores.

The program was intended to offer college education to more New York City residents, in particular those of color. In 1973 enrollment at Queens reached an all-time high of 31,413 students.

The New York Times reported in December 1976 that "Queens College, considered the jewel in the university's crown, has been particularly hard hit by the cuts, which have gone to the heart of the faculty." All hiring and building on campus was halted. But with a 5 million building program in place by 1986 for the college's 50th anniversary, enrollments were expected to rise and the college was beginning to recover from the financial crisis of the 1970s. Under President Allen Lee Sessoms, the college underwent some growth but also some missteps, including the highly publicized inability to fund the planned AIDS research center that Dr. Queens College students were active participants in the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, including the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

The school was shut down and students were transferred to local public schools.A few months later, the grounds were turned over to the city.But Open Admissions did not seem to affect Queens College as much as it did other schools — a year after its implementation, only 10% of its student body was black or Puerto Rican, according to the newly appointed college president, Dr. By 1976 new concerns overtook the college as New York City faced a crippling financial crisis.CUNY's policy of free tuition was revoked; the overall CUNY budget was cut by 5 million; and CUNY Chancellor Robert Kibbee demanded that Queens College slash its budget by 15%. In the 1990s, the college attracted high-profile researchers to its faculty, including the virologist Luc Montagnier.The three activists were stopped and arrested for allegedly driving over the speed limit on a Mississippi road.

After being brought into the sheriff's department and released, the three young men were stopped by two carloads of KKK members on a remote rural road.

The Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner Clock Tower of Rosenthal Library, a highly visible borough landmark, is named in their honor.

In February 2011, Queens College inherited the personal collection of the late James Foreman.

Six of the original Spanish-style buildings dating back to the early 20th century still stand, such as Jefferson Hall, which was built in 1900.

The college has since expanded to over 40 buildings, including the main classroom building, Powdermaker Hall, rebuilt in 2003 and named after the college's distinguished anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker.

Schwerner; all three were trying to register African-Americans to vote in the South.