The University of North Florida: A Brief History

February 19, 2014 38 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Sure, there are many people who know about UNF. But how many know anything beyond that? My guess is not many— including myself. With so much information actually out there I thought, “Why not compile it all into one, easily accessible story?” And as a student about to graduate from the University of North Florida, I didn’t want to leave here without learning about where I was coming from. So then... what exactly is the story behind UNF?

The idea and development of UNF can be most attributed to Florida State Senator at the time, Mr. John E. Mathews Jr. Mathews originally proposed for a four-year higher education institution in 1963, but was immediately shot down. In 1965, Mathews had reformulated his proposal, asking for a two-year senior college. With a high recommendation for business, education, and the traditional science, the bill passed and was published by the Board of Regents in 1967. Immediately following, Mathews filed for over two million dollars in appropriations, and after being rejected by State Governor Claude Kirk four times, finally receive about $225,000 to construct and staff the University.

The construction of UNF. Image courtesy of

Now a site for UNF’s construction was needed. Members of the “Site Selection Committee” included: Hugh Abernathy, Charles Brooks, Kenneth Craig, Justin Montgomery, Jack Quaritius, John Trekell, and the chairman, Gert Schmidt. Schmidt was specifically selected for the chairman position due to his public presence and verse in higher education issues as a member of the Florida Board of Control (formerly BOR). Picking a location proved to be difficult; for the sole reason that the BOR required at least 1,000 acres for the potential of future development. While UNF could have ended up in what is now the hospital Complex in Springfield, or what is now the area near McCoy’s Creek, eventually developing rural areas provided to be cheaper. By 1968, the potential location for UNF had been narrowed down.

Negotiations were eventually made through donation and sale of land, from owners such as Alexander Brest, George Hodges Sr. and Associates, Mary Virginia Skinner Jones, A. Chester Skinner, Jr. and C. Brightman Skinner. Now all the City of Jacksonville needed was to gain title to the land and officially turn it over to the State. At this point, many urban residents were outraged, claiming that this location wouldn’t be accessible enough for people in the city. After much controversy and a vote, in September of 1969, the rural Deerwood location was decided on, and UNF would be built where it now lies.
The University of North Florida was given its name and Thomas G. Carpenter was named the first president of the newly founded institution. As the founding UNF administrator, Carpenter directed the physical development and initial administrative organization of the university, as well as put together the first team of faculty, administrators, and staff.

UNF's September 1971 Groundbreaking Ceremony. Image courtesy of

Since UNF had not yet been built, the newly put together staff began getting together in a large office room located downtown at the Florida National Bank. While this location initially worked fine for the small, founding staff, by 1970 the payroll had grown and UNF’s staff had to move to the former Florida Chamber of Commerce near the Arlington Expressway. In September of 1971, UNF hosted its “Groundbreaking Ceremony” in which 600 guests, including prospective students, were welcomed.
Over the next year, the construction crew worked diligently, and by August 1972, UNF’s staff was finally able to start moving onto campus.  The building plan that was tucked away in the woods was designed after a village street concept that Carpenter himself favored, and had no on-site housing. UNF was ready to being classes.

A year later, in June 10, 1973, UNF hosted the first graduating commencement at the newly established university. The graduating class consisted of thirty-five students, with twenty-eight receiving bachelorettes, most of them belonging to the College of Arts and Science, and the other seven receiving graduate degrees.

The June 10, 1973 graduation ceremony. Image courtesy of
From there, UNF developed rapidly. By 1974, UNF had received full academic accreditation. In 1976, the Alumni Association had been established. In 1978, UNF faced a slight setback when the popular hangout on campus, “The Boathouse,” burnt down over Christmas break. UNF moved forward. By 1980, Andrew Robinson had been named the new President of the University, and by 1981, over 5.000 students were enrolled on campus. In 1984, the first freshmen were admitted to the University, so by 1985, dorms were necessary, thus resulting in the opening of Osprey Village.

Today, UNF is home to more than 16,000 students, offers approximately 200 different degrees, almost 200 clubs, 25 Greek chapters, and covers nearly 1,400 acres in total. UNF is now headed by President John Delaney, who has overseen some of the greatest and most significant changes in UNF’s history to date.

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