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100 and growing 

ASU, Tech, SAU and UAM began humbly.

ASU: Now it's a system.
  • ASU: Now it's a system.

Except for Arkansas Tech, they all answered to “A and M” at one time or another, but the four of them weren't even Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges to begin with, just jumped-up high schools. A hundred years later, they're all universities, one even calling itself a university “system,” with a president in Little Rock and chancellors at the component campuses. All four universities have at least one branch campus in addition to the original.

The institutions of higher learning now known as Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas at Monticello are celebrating their centennials this year. Act 100 of 1909 proved to be a greater leap forward for higher education in Arkansas than its sponsors intended.

Legislators, and Arkansans generally, weren't greatly concerned with higher education back then — keeping the elementary schools open was almost more than they could do — but they did see a need for farmers with some reasonable level of formal education. White farmers, that is. Black higher education, virtually nonexistent at the time, was a separate matter. (There are those who'd say that Arkansas is still not much concerned about higher education, but today just about every fair-sized town has a college of some sort, if not necessarily adequately funded. When Act 100 was passed, an “industrial university” later to become the University of Arkansas had been operating at Fayetteville since 1871, and a teacher-training college at Conway, later to become the University of Central Arkansas, had been authorized by Act 317 of 1907. That was about it for public higher education in Arkansas. Private colleges came and went.)

The Farmers Union successfully promoted the establishment of agricultural high schools that would go beyond the regular schools in the teaching of agriculture. Act 100 created four of these  schools, one for each quadrant of the state. The schools were to teach horticulture and textile making in addition to agriculture. The exact locations of the schools were to be chosen, Act 100 said, on the bases of “the nature of the soil, healthfulness of location, general desirability, and other material inducements offered, such as the donation of buildings, land or money.” The First District Agricultural School went to Jonesboro, and is now Arkansas State; the Second District School to Russellville (Arkansas Tech), the Third District School to Magnolia (Southern Arkansas), the Fourth District School to Monticello (UAM).

 

Arkansas State University

The First District Agricultural School began classes, with 189 students, on Oct. 3, 1910. In May 1913, three boys and two girls became the first graduates of the school. In 1915, according to an ASU timeline, “The Animal Husbandry Endowment Association is formed, and brings the first Holstein cattle to the state of Arkansas.” In 1918, the school began functioning as a junior college, and in 1925 its name was changed to “First District Agricultural and Mechanical College.” The legislature promoted it to Arkansas State College in 1933.

A significant hire was made in 1951 — Carl Reng became president. He'd lead ASU for the next 24 years, most conspicuously when the legislature approved university status for the school, over the strong objections of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, which had had the university field to itself, and the editorial page of the state's largest newspaper. The university designation seemed big at the time; within a few years, all the state colleges had become universities.

Though it now extends over several campuses, ASU, like its 1909 siblings, is still considered a regional university — unlike UA, which is assigned a statewide role by the state Higher Education Coordinating Board. But Chancellor Robert Potts at Jonesboro likes to point out the Coordinating Board has granted ASU a statewide mission in certain research areas. And ASU partisans still think of ASU as a rival to UA; UA partisans do not. ASU football fans still cry for a game between ASU and UA. UA fans do not, and the UA athletic department has been fiercely opposed.  Even ASU's move up to the highest level of college football, the same level where UA plays, didn't lessen the resistance. That move did, however, require the diversion of more ASU educational funds into the support of athletics, nettling the ASU faculty. Their discontent continues.

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