The Williams Years (1962-1973)

During its early years, FAU prospered and grew, led by the steady hand of its first president, Dr. Kenneth R. Williams, who had also been the founding president of Miami Dade College (then called Dade County Junior College). In 1962, two years before FAU opened, he took the helm of an institution with a small but dedicated faculty that quickly became known for outstanding classroom teaching and mentorship of students. These qualities continue to characterize the FAU faculty to this day.

The university’s first students could pursue bachelor’s degrees in five colleges: Business, Education, Humanities, Science and Social Science. The College of Education also offered master’s degrees in elementary, secondary and higher education, administration, guidance, special education and human behavior.

In April 1965, just seven months after opening its doors, FAU held its first commencement ceremony, presenting degrees to 30 students who had entered as seniors. Because there was no appropriate facility on campus for this event, the ceremony was conducted at the First Presbyterian Church of Boca Raton.

The aggressive construction program that took place during the university’s earliest years saw completion of the three-story Administration Building (which three decades later would be named for Dr. Williams), the Humanities Building, which includes the 504-seat University Theater, and six residence halls, all named to honor Native American tribes: Algonquin, Modoc, Mohave, Naskapi, Sekoni and Seminole.

In the fall of 1965, FAU introduced the nation’s first degree program in ocean engineering. Over the years, this pioneering program has garnered much recognition, including being named a State University System Program of Distinction. Today it is housed at SeaTech, a state-of-the-art research center in Dania Beach, and offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Intercollegiate athletics made their appearance at FAU in 1969, signaling the start of the gradual transformation of the university into a more traditional institution than was originally envisioned. This trend continued in later years with the advent of fraternities and sororities, an annual Homecoming celebration and construction of the University Center, which quickly became a hub of student life.

Every university must have a mascot, and FAU found one on its doorstep: the feisty burrowing owl, a South Florida native that lives and raises its chicks in holes in the ground. Classified as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the owls dwelling on FAU’s campuses have long been protected from human harassment. In 1971, the Boca Raton campus became an official burrowing owl sanctuary. The university’s teams proudly bear the Owls name.

During Dr. Williams’ presidency, major emphasis was placed on developing the Boca Raton campus, but some outreach efforts were made to other parts of FAU’s large, seven-county service area. Small satellite facilities were established in Fort Lauderdale to the south and in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce to the north.

When Dr. Williams retired in 1973, he left a university that had made great progress under his leadership. The student body had increased to 5,632, the number of degree programs had expanded from 31 to more than 100, and 13,509 men and women had graduated to become FAU alumni. The stage was set for the next phase in the university’s development.