It has been difficult to find the “true” story behind the purchase of the South Texas Junior College by the University of Houston, although the outline is quite straightforward: in 1974, South Texas was in talks with HCC to merge. But in a very quick turn of events, UH bought the College in August, foregoing the state coordinating board’s approval with the reasoning that they were not merging at all. President Hoffman and the University of Houston attorneys argued that UH was merely buying assets to expand its own downtown operation which had been closed due to building projects. In a private memo from spring 1974, one of President Hoffman’s staffers remarked that if HCC and STJC were allowed to merge, it would be disastrous for the University, which might never get another foothold in downtown (earlier that year they had lost their property there when it was bought to build the Houston Center).
The state coordinating board was furious when they were informed of the purchase, but it was a fait accompli. President Hoffman worked swiftly and tried to use his influence to make the way easier for the changeover, but South Texas had been, until its purchase, a private junior college, and now would need to orient all of its business operations and procedures to being a public junior college in just three weeks. This was a massively complex undertaking, since all of the students registered to begin classes in August needed to be vetted and approved by the state as eligible candidates for in-state tuition. Molly Wood, then the Registrar, recounted how they worked every day and every night for seven days under the supervision of a state auditor to get nearly 5,000 students verified for eligibility. In the end, though, in late August 1974, the College opened its doors as the downtown branch of the University of Houston. That year, commencement was held with the regular UH graduation in Hoffheinz Pavilion, and everyone at One Main was a “Cougar,” but it was not an easy arrangement. One reason for this was that the faculty of the Junior College had all moved over into faculty positions, per the terms of the purchase. The faculty of UH did not think that their colleagues at UH’s “downtown college” should be afforded the same treatment or tenure, since many of the faculty from STJC had only their masters degrees.
The solution was relatively simple, however: the next year, University of Houston Downtown College became its own administrative unit, adopted the Gator as its mascot and its marketing colors went from red and white to green and white. The student newspaper reinvented itself as the Bayou Review, and Dr. Dykes formally resigned as President of the College, passing the torch to Dr. J. Don Boney, formerly the head of HCC. As an African-American and with a PhD in urban education, Dr. Boney personified the kind of commitment to the community on which the College had always prided itself. As Elliott Johnson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees said, the College was “dedicated to making high quality educational self-improvement and citizen-enlightenment opportunities available to every diligent Houstonian.”
Under Dr. Boney, the College went from a junior college to a four-year institution in 1979, though the fight through the state legislature and coordinating board was incredibly difficult (thanks, of course, to the still-fresh insult of not petitioning the state for the right to merge with UH in the first place). Cementing its place, however, as a fully-fledged university within the UH system was key to the institution’s health and success in later years: open enrollment and low-cost, UHD could continue to offer the under-served and nontraditional students of Houston an education that focused on their needs and programs that they wanted.