Open the Door in '64

Just one hitch remained: While the state had approved building a new university in Boca Raton, it had provided no funding for planning, architectural design or construction. When Broward Culpepper, chairman of the Board of Control, announced that the local community would have to raise $100,000, Fleming swung into action once again, establishing an Endowment Corporation that solicited contributions from the public under the slogan “Open the Door in ‘64.”

The first donation came from Fleming himself, who pledged one percent of three years’ worth of the pre-tax earnings of the First Bank and Trust Company of Boca Raton, which he headed. The Endowment Corporation raised close to $300,000 in start-up funding for the university, and it is still in service today under the name of the FAU Foundation.

Next came the question of what to name the new university. There was no lack of ideas from official quarters or the public. Names generated through a contest run by the Fort Lauderdale News included Palm State, Peninsula University, Gulfstream University, Kennedy University of Florida, Bryant State (to honor Governor Farris Bryant, a Fleming friend who was an early supporter of the Boca site), Sunshine State and A-Okay University (a reference to a catch-phrase used in the 1960s by American astronauts). The Board of Control resolved the question by adopting the name Florida Atlantic University in 1962, two years before the scheduled opening.

Tom Fleming made a critically important discovery during his long, successful campaign to bring FAU into existence: He realized that state support of all of higher education in Florida was woefully inadequate. In order to remedy this, he became chairman of “Citizens for Florida’s Future,” a committee of the state Chamber of Commerce that sought voter approval of a $75 million bond issue to expand and improve Florida’s junior colleges and universities.

The bond issue passed in the November 1963 election, and President John F. Kennedy praised Fleming by name for this outstanding accomplishment during a speech that month in Tampa. It was the last speech Kennedy made before his tragic trip to Texas. A letter inviting him to take part in the planned dedication of FAU the following year was mailed on the very day he was assassinated in Dallas.

By the time FAU was ready to open in the fall of 1964, Lyndon Johnson was president, and he was campaigning hard against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. Fleming, who was managing Johnson's Florida campaign, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: He asked him to make the keynote address at the ceremony that would mark the opening of Florida’s newest public university. And that is why the President of the United States was on hand when Florida Atlantic University was dedicated.