The University of Southern Indiana Exists Because of State Government Legislation
It's been over 20 years since I was a student at the University of Southern Indiana, and while I'm rarely on its campus these days, there seems to be a building that wasn't there before when I am. That, to me, is a testament that the past and current administrations have done a great job over the years of making USI an appealing option for not only those of us who live here, but those outside of the area looking to continue their education at a quality institution. What I imagine many of the students who attend classes there today don't know, is that USI wasn't always USI. And what I didn't know, until recently, is that it required the Indiana State Legislature to make it happen nearly 40 years ago.
What Was the University of Southern Indiana Originally Called?
If you've lived here for the majority of your life, or all of it like I have, and, like me, are over the ages of 40 to 45, you likely remember the original name for USI when it first opened its campus back in 1965. If you don't, let me take you on a quick trip down memory lane.
When I was younger, my grandparents lived on McDowell Road, just west of where the campus sits, and I clearly remember driving past this big wooden sign on the side of the road numerous times as we went to and from our home to theirs.
Before it was the University of Southern Indiana we all know today, it was a remote campus for Indiana State University. Although, ISU was not the first choice of city officials at the time. They first approached Indiana and Purdue Universities about setting up a satellite campus in the city, but both said no.
After being rejected like every me asking a girl out in high school, then-mayor Frank McDonald struck a deal with Indiana State, and ISUE was born.
The first classes were held in 1965 at the Centennial School at the intersection of 12th Avenue and Indiana Street on the west side. This is what it looked like then:
This is what it looks like now and is likely the view you recognize:
How ISUE Became the University of Southern Indiana
After receiving state funding along with private donations, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1968 at the location where the campus sits today off Highway 62. One year later, students began attending classes at that location. This is what it looked like in 1972:
A few years later in the mid-70s, the idea of the school separating from Indiana State began to be discussed by city leaders as the campus and enrollment numbers grew and more funding was needed to provide the student body the tools and space they needed. They proposed the idea to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education through a number of bills, but none of them passed the state legislature.
Fast forwarding to the early 1980s, university officials were looking to build on-campus housing for students to help ease the burden of the gas crisis happening at the time, but to do so required approval from the Indiana State Board of Trustees which shot it down due to a policy that prohibited housing on satellite campuses. However, pressure from the community led to the board changing its mind and allowing the housing to be built. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know?
The fight for housing reignited the idea of ISUE becoming its own thing, but this time city officials had something going for them they didn't have before — an Evansville native serving as the state's governor. Robert D. Orr said he would personally guide the process of separating ISUE from Indiana State.
After city officials and local, high-profile business owners traveled around the state pleading their case with state legislators, many of which had voted against the school's independence during earlier attempts, they managed to convince enough of them to change their minds. Of course, it also may not have hurt that several members of the faculty, administration, and student body showed up at the state house as the bill was being discussed.
The legislation passed, and in April of 1985, Governor Orr signed the bill giving the university its independence, and the University of Southern Indiana, or as most of us call it, USI, was born.
The University of Southern Indiana Today
Since that time, USI has flourished. Enrollment has made a tremendous jump from that first class of 412 to around 11,000 annually. Plus, the campus has grown from the handful of buildings pictured above to the sprawling campus it is today.
Would that growth have happened had the school never received its independence from Indiana State? No one will ever know for sure, but you have to think that by being able to make its own decisions, it happened quicker than it would have if it didn't.
For more on how USI separated itself from ISU, check out this video put together by the University back in 2004 as part of its 40th-anniversary celebration.
[Sources: Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library on Facebook / Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archives / University of Southern Indiana on YouTube]