A New Kind of University

From the very beginning, FAU aimed to be a whole new kind of university, one that would harness broadcast technology to beam classes to students wherever they might be, thus swinging the door of higher education open wider than ever before. In a very real sense, FAU was the first Information Age university. The only problem was that the Information Age itself would not be popularly recognized for nearly four more decades, and the outside technology needed to enable off-campus students to take advantage of what FAU had to offer simply did not exist. It finally began to take shape in the late 1990s, as colleges and universities around the world started offering increasing numbers of courses online and through other methods of distance learning.

The first university buildings to rise among the abandoned wooden structures of the old airbase were the Library, the Learning Resources Building, the Sanson Science Building and General Classrooms South, which featured classrooms shaped like slices of pie arranged around a core containing the most advanced audio-visual resources available in the early 1960s. A few steps away, in Learning Resources, four fully equipped television studios stood ready to broadcast classroom lectures across campus or around the world. The Library featured a technologically sophisticated Media Center, an automatic check-out system and a computer-generated catalog instead of the familiar Dewey Decimal System manual card index.

FAU was one of the first universities in the country to offer only upper-division and graduate-level work, on the theory that freshmen and sophomores could be served by the growing community college system. Even with these enrollment restrictions, the initial student body was expected to be about 2,000, but by September 8, 1964, the scheduled opening day, fewer than half that number had registered for classes. This shortfall was attributed to the campus’ lack of dormitories and dining facilities, South Florida’s inadequate system of highways, the absence of public transportation and the administration’s failure to actively recruit students. Because a feasibility study had indicated that the new university stood in the middle of a region that was home to 30,000 potential students, little or no marketing effort had been made.

Just as FAU was about to open, Hurricane Cleo swept its way up Florida’s east coast, causing $100,000 in damage to the campus and delaying the start of classes by six days. When the wind died down and the flood waters receded, FAU’s charter class of 867 students arrived to begin their studies on a treeless campus marked by a flagpole that was bent like a used pipecleaner. Thus did the academic life of the university get under way, inspired by the motto “Where Tomorrow Begins.”