Alumni CLASnotes Spring 2003

A History of the College

When the East Florida Seminary opened its doors in 1853 in a little village called Ocala, no one imagined this grammar school with three small wooden buildings and no student over the age of 14 would become the University of Florida we know today. This year, UF celebrates its 150-year history, from its humble beginnings in rural Florida through its evolution into one of the largest, most respected universities in the nation. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been an integral part of the university, in some form, every step of the way.


Humble Beginnings
In 1851, six years after Florida became a state, the legislature decided to set up institutes of higher learning in East and West Florida. The Suwannee River was used as the dividing line. "The legislature asked the communities of Florida if they were interested in having one of these institutes in their community, and what they were willing to put into the pot in the way of money or land," says Samuel Proctor, UF's historian. "The response was not great." A small private school in Ocala established for local children--the East Florida Seminary--offered its property to the state, which was the only proposal Florida received. On January 6, 1853, Governor Thomas Brown signed a bill allowing the state to financially support the institution. This is where UF gets the 1853 date on its seal. Many courses taught at the seminary can be traced to today's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, such as English, history, Latin and zoology. In 1866, the school transferred to Gainesville and gained the reputation as one of the nation's top liberal arts schools.

University of Florida Officially Established
In the late 1800s, the state of Florida was struggling to maintain eight institutions. "The state was trying to support these institutions and was not doing a very good job at it," Proctor says. "None of them compared well with other schools in the South, much less the nation." So in 1905, Henry H. Buckman, chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, drafted a bill to combine these schools into three universities--what are known today as UF, Florida State and Florida A&M universities. The Buckman Act passed in May 1905, and Gainesville and Lake City were the top cities competing for UF. "Lake City thought it had it in the bag because it had a good campus with nice buildings; therefore, it didn't make a good play for the university," says Proctor. "Gainesville, however, formed a committee to promote the city. It offered $70,000 cash, agreed to pave what is now called University Avenue, promised to provide low-cost housing for students until dorms could be built, and to provide free water to the campus." On July 6, 1905, Gainesville won the bid with a six to four state Board of Control vote. "Lake City was so upset about it that for years no boy from Columbia County would come to UF," says Proctor.

College of Arts and Sciences Created
When the new UF opened its doors in September 1906, classes in the arts and sciences were taught in the School of Language and Literature and the General Scientific School. The College of Arts and Sciences was created in 1909 when the university divided into four colleges--Arts and Sciences, Agriculture, Engineering and Law. The new college had a staff of 12 and offered degrees in 15 disciplines. Some of the original departments were later transferred to new colleges: education classes moved to the College of Education in 1913, economics joined the College of Commerce and Journalism in 1920, and military sciences became a separate division. A few departments--botany, chemistry, and physics--left the college for short periods and returned. Courses in the fine arts were added, and these eventually became part of the College of Fine Arts. New departments were created; some of the early ones were mathematics, religion, geology and biology, sociology and political science, philosophy and psychology, and speech.

Memories of the Early Years
"Times have changed dramatically since I was a student," says Proctor, who came to UF as a freshman in 1937 to major in political science. "The school was pretty isolated. On University Avenue, from 13th Street all the way downtown, there were residences and fraternity houses. There were no recreational facilities on campus. The movie houses were downtown, but you could easily walk it. Freshmen had to wear these beanie caps--rat caps--which identified who you were, and they were very valuable. Very few people had cars, and if you wanted to travel around you had to hitch a ride, which you could do very easily wearing a rat cap. People had no hesitancy picking you up in those years."

If students wanted to go downtown, Proctor says they stood on the corner of 13th Street and University Avenue and hitched a ride. When they were ready to return to campus, they stood in front of the Seagle Building and thumbed a ride back. Students could get a bite to eat in Dauer Hall, then the student union. Toast, coffee and juice were served at breakfast for 15 cents. There were restaurants that served students near campus. The most famous was the College Inn, which was known in more recent years as the Purple Porpoise bar.

Tuition to UF was initially free. "When I came here it was about $60, but you weren't paying tuition, you were paying fees--$5 went to the infirmary, $10 for athletics because students could go to all football, baseball and basketball games free. They really didn't need to charge until after the war."

Changes in the College
In 1935, UF President John J. Tigert created University College (originally referred to as General College) out of concern that students were not getting a strong liberal arts education. The attrition rate was very high at the time--roughly one-third of first and second year students dropped out. Through University College, students could gain a basic college education--and receive an associate of arts degree--before entering the college of their choice to complete a bachelor's degree.

"Tigert believed you needed less specialization," says Proctor. "A doctor needed to know more than just medicine; he needed to know about the arts, literature and so on. Some students came from such a poor background, they couldn't afford to stay in school for four years. Tigert reasoned that if you could give them a general education for a year and a half, and then they had to drop out, at least they would be better off than if they had just tried to specialize during that time."

Though arts and sciences courses were taught in University College, the College of Arts and Sciences continued to teach the same courses. Harry Sisler served as a college dean during this time. "I don't know of a university anywhere that is a first-class, leading institution that doesn't have an outstanding College of Arts and Sciences," says Sisler, who retired from UF in 1985. "One of the things I did immediately as dean was establish a functional student council in the college. I think it's essential that any administration have that kind of contact with students."

PHOTOFirst Women and Minorities
In 1947 when UF became co-educational, Dorothy Rethlingshafer became the first woman faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences when she was hired by the psychology department to help develop the doctoral program and teach testing, development, learning and motivation courses. Ruth McQuown, a political science professor, became the first female associate dean of the college in 1976 and one of the first female campus administrators. She was an important voice in bringing the women's studies program to the college in 1977.

UF integrated in 1962, and the first group of African-American students enrolled. In 1970, UF hired its first group of African-American faculty and staff. The small group of eight included English professors Ronald Foreman and Betty Ingram--the college's first black faculty. "There were very few black students here at that time," says Foreman. "We were trying to get our colleagues, whoever they might be--white, black, blue, green--to understand that diversity was what we wanted to have. My main point that whole time was that UF, as a public institution, had a responsibility to everybody in the state. It was not Duke, Yale or Harvard. It was public, and that is why I thought it should widen its gates and invite black people to come and do anything that was possible."

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Takes Shape
After a long struggle, University College was merged into the College of Arts and Sciences in 1978, creating the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The merger made the college the largest on campus--with more than 13,000 students and more than 500 faculty. Merger talks began in 1976, when History Professor Michael Gannon was an assistant dean in the college. "From 1976-78, I worked with English Professor Harry Shaw to negotiate the merger. I visited the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to see how they had merged their two colleges by creating a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, so I suggested UF follow this model."

Charles Sidman was hired as dean of both colleges, and Gannon worked with him to get the new college underway. "When I was brought to the university, the faculty had already made the decision and the president had endorsed it," Sidman says. "I wanted the transition to go as smoothly as possible that first year. I spent a lot of time talking to faculty members about their concerns, and I think the vast majority felt they were better off for the merger."

When Sidman came to campus, Turlington Hall had just been completed. Home to the newly renamed College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the building was constructed on the site of the first building completed on the university campus, Machinery Hall. The structure first housed farm equipment, but was later turned into a chemistry laboratory. Turlington Hall was built on the site in 1978, at the cost of $5.7 million, and named in honor of Ralph Turlington, former state education commissioner and UF business professor.

Looking to the Future
In 2003, as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences celebrates the sesquicentennial of UF, many new initiatives are on the horizon, including the construction of the world's largest optical telescope on the Canary Islands and the continued development of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere.

Dean Neil Sullivan has a bright outlook on what lies ahead. "As the intellectual core of the university, it is indeed the investment of the past in our fundamental disciplines that has allowed us to embrace today new interdisciplinary efforts that will expand our future and propel the university into its place as one of the top public institutions in the nation."

--Buffy Lockette

Courtesy University Archives

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