Early History of the University of Houston-Downtown

Written circa 1987; scanned from an original typed copy signed only LME

South Texas Junior College, a private junior college offering only academic courses leading to the AS and AA degrees, had prospered until the very early 70’s when the Houston Community College System came into existence. Not able to compete with the far lower tuition, the junior college experienced rapid declines in enrollment dropping from approximately 5,000 students in 1970-71 to 2,500 in 1973-74.
The problem was compounded by a president who had replaced the president of many years, Dr. W. I. Dykes. The new president, Dr. Reagan, virtually depleted the fund balances of South Texas and made sweeping moves which demoralized personnel. Long-time administrators were replaced by others, and he ranked the faculty with no prior consultation of the Faculty Senate. The faculty rebelled, went directly to the Board of Trustees with documentation sufficient for Dr. Reagan’s removal from office. Dr. Dykes was persuaded to come out of retirement and resume the presidency until the crisis could be resolved.
Realizing the college’s dire financial straits, Dr. Dykes in consultation with Mr. Elliott Johnson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, determined that affiliation with another higher education institution was the only alternative. Houston Community College’s President, Dr. J. Don Boney, was approached in Fall 1973. Dr. Boney was very interested and worked diligently to have South Texas Junior College become a campus of the Houston Community College System. HCC was at the time only one of three community college systems in Texas, at that time, to have no tax base and no independent board of trustees (Houston Independent School District trustees served as the community college system’s trustees). The politics and logistics of merger developed into a quagmire of obstacles. In early summer, 1974, negotiations ceased.
In July, 1974, Dr. Dykes and Mr. Johnson approached Dr. Philip Hoffman, President of the University of Houston and Chancellor of a newly evolving University of Houston System. Dr. Hoffman involved Mr. Douglas Mclean, Vice President for Finance. These four individuals, with no consultation outside the group, crafted an agreement subsequently approved by the South Texas Board of Trustees by which the University of Houston System assumed all assets and liabilities of South Texas Junior College and declared it the fourth campus of the University of Houston System. The University of Houston System Board of Regents approved.
The two boards, and the four negotiators–Hoffman, Mclean, Elliott and Dykes–were the only ones who knew of the action until early August. Dr. Hoffman called Dr. Boney to give him early warning since he had previously been in negotiations for a merger with the community college system; some South Texas personnel were informed. Then in a newspaper headline, the Houston community, state and governmental officials, and others learned of the new addition to the University of Houston System.
Especially noteworthy was the fact that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was informed by the media even though they were charged by the State Legislature to approve all proposed additional campuses. With a new Coordinating Board Commissioner, Dr. Kenneth Ashworth, functioning in a new environment that emphasized ceasing the proliferation of universities and curtailing program duplication, there was consternation at the state level. Had the state not been in the beginning stages of a transition of Commissioners from Bevington Reed to Ashworth, the “slight of hand” by which the University of Houston-Downtown came to be might have had a different ending. But, with a thinly veiled excuse of reestablishing the University of Houston’s Downtown School, an adult education branch campus which had existed until a few years previously when the downtown location’s lease was lost, the University of Houston-Downtown (then known as the University of Houston Downtown College) was not officially approved, but was ignored and allowed to exist.
The Downtown College acquisition met with similar consternation at the University of Houston. Outrage prevailed. President Hoffman was censured by the Faculty Senate. Had it been known by more than the inner circle that University of Houston resources, both human and financial, would be used to support the first year of operation of the new campus, the resulting hostility can only be imagined.
Dr. Hoffman called Dr. J. Don Boney in early fall, 1974, and told him he wanted him to become the first permanent president of the Downtown College. This transpired August 1, 1975. Dr. Boney took over a campus acquired strictly as an “opportunity purchase” with no thought to its role within the system, population to be served, or mission. The campus began the transition–private to publicly funded, two-year to four-year, unranked to ranked faculty.
For two years all energies were focused on the development of baccalaureate degree programs, hiring faculty and staff to support the burgeoning student body, developing administrative support systems, and implementing a new organizational structure. The new structure was implemented before asking Coordinating Board approval, further “blackening” the reputation of the campus.
In 1979 yet another back-room deal, again without Coordinating Board approval, was cut. This time Dr. Hoffman was not in on the contrived strategy. On the floor of the Texas Legislature, then Lieutenant Governor Hobby introduced a bill, legislatively authorizing the Downtown College. This legislation made the campus legitimate and knowledge of the inner circle at UHD working with Lieutenant Governor Hobby is still closely held. While not endearing the campus with the System or Coordinating Board, it was probably the most significant event in the College’s history.
Upon Dr. Boney’s death in August, 1979, Dr. Schilt assumed campus leadership in 1980 and was the “great healer” with the University of Houston System. In order to get the first four-year degree programs approved, the University of Houston and the Coordinating Board were placated by an emphasis on career-focused degrees. Non-duplication was stressed. The first approvals were for degrees in Business Services Technology, Business Management Technology, Engineering Technology, and General Studies. These titles somewhat disguised our business and liberal arts offerings.

Moving to the modest offerings of today with titles which are fairly understandable has taken much effort, patience, confidence building, and persuasion. A base is laid for future progress but only finesse and political savvy can bring program expansion to desired for fruition.

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