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University of Missouri

The Making of a University

Mizzou celebrates 175 years as a global leader in teaching and research.

academic hall illustration

Based on historical artwork and photographs, this view (including the cows) is how the University of Missouri appeared when Academic Hall, above right, was dedicated in 1843. The structure burned in 1892, leaving the Columns. The president’s residence, built to the east at about the same time, burned in 1865, and The Residence on Francis Quadrangle now sits on the site. Illustration by Tom Jester.

The University of Missouri has come a long way in the past 175 years.

MU is one of six American public universities with units in law, medicine and veterinary medicine on one campus, and it has the most powerful research reactor of any university in the United States. As a research institution, MU spends about $240 million annually to do basic science research and develop products that change lives — from healthful foods to a cancer treatment with no discernible side effects. MU’s ability to foster collaboration has so impressed members of the most prestigious science academies that eight have chosen the university as their destination to teach and perform research.

Administrators, meanwhile, have helped create a campus culture that is open, environmentally aware, multicultural, health-conscious (on July 1, 2013, the campus went smoke-free) and accepting of ideological differences. Thirty-six percent of students are residents of a state other than Missouri or come from abroad. From 2003 to 2013, minority enrollment increased 100 percent from 2,603 to 5,197, Division of Enrollment Management records show.

With its 175-year anniversary approaching in 2014, expect some nostalgia from faculty, staff, students, alumni and Columbia residents on how far MU has come: from a cluster of buildings on a field in rough-and-tumble Boone County to a $2.1 billion globally competitive higher education institution.

mizzou campus aerial

During Brady J. Deaton’s tenure as chancellor, MU has added 21 buildings. Photo by Robert Llewellyn.

Where We Are From

MU was founded in 1839 thanks in large part to the efforts of then-Missouri lawmaker James S. Rollins, who saw the need for higher education in central Missouri. At the time, most residents in the region came from a Southern plantation culture that included slaveholding and embraced frontier justice, says Frank O. Bowman III, a Boone County historian and MU professor of law. A Unionist sympathizer, Rollins was also a slaveholder in antebellum Boone County.

The University of Missouri has come a long way from its rugged beginnings in frontier Boone County. What began as a few structures on a dirt grid is today an enchanting 1,262-acre botanic garden.

By the 1850s, Washington, D.C., favored abolition, causing suspicion among many county residents of federal oversight, Bowman says. Even so, MU Libraries in 1862 became a U.S. government state regional depository. The depository gave central Missourians public access to legislative documents, helping them to be informed on actions in Washington. “It was a brave move by the university to join a federal program at that time considering mid-Missouri’s Confederate sympathies and hostility to the Union,” says Marie Concannon, BES ’87, MA ’90, MU Libraries government documents regional director.

During its early decades, MU grew slowly and enrollment was sparse, in part because of violent skirmishes fueled by Missouri’s ambiguous stand on slavery. Its campus, moreover, looked more like a collection of country schoolhouses than a state university. Two events strengthened its financial foundation: In the late 1860s, Rollins, then a state representative, drafted several measures to create revenue for MU, and the university achieved land-grant status.

The Morrill Act, passed in 1862, was a federal program designed to bulk up American higher education. The act gave federal land or the proceeds of federal land sales to universities for the creation of colleges teaching agricultural and mechanic arts. Upon receiving land-grant status in 1870, MU moved to open the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Today, MU is ranked among the top 15 universities in the world for animal and plant science research.

Dr. John Pardalos, MD ’90, examines Carly Ruggles in the Neonatal  Intensive Care Unit at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Photo by Justin Kelley.

Dr. John Pardalos, MD ’90, examines Carly Ruggles in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Photo by Justin Kelley.

By 1890, the university boasted schools in the arts, sciences, medicine and law. In 1908, the world’s first journalism school was founded, now known globally for the Missouri Method of teaching students in the authentic media outlets of a daily newspaper, a weekly magazine, an NBC-affiliate TV station and a National Public Radio affiliate.

Between 1870 and 1910, American higher education hit its stride. Enrollment jumped, and benefactors fat with cash from the industrial age enabled the founding and expansion of hundreds of degree-granting institutions. But expansion also shed an unbecoming light on the lack of academic standards among U.S. colleges and universities. In response, 14 higher education institutions’ presidents formed the Association of American Universities (AAU) in 1900. Association membership was by invitation only and based on the quality of the university’s research, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate education. Charter members included Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.

Granted membership in 1908, the University of Missouri is one of only 34 public universities in the U.S. with AAU status. Former MU Chancellor Brady J. Deaton, who retired Nov. 15, 2013, was proud of the campus’s AAU membership but also saw room for improvement. In spring 2013, Deaton announced formation of a committee to examine ways to strengthen Mizzou’s AAU stature.

The rubber had already hit the road in one focus area: increasing the number of faculty who are members of prestigious academies. Since November 2012, MU has added evolutionary psychologist Martin Daly (the Royal Society of Canada), anthropologist Napoleon A. Chagnon (The National Academy of Sciences) and economist William “Buz” Brock (The National Academy of Sciences). The hires were made with help from the Chancellor’s Fund for Excellence, the College of Arts and Science, and Mizzou Advantage — which rolled out in January 2010 to increase MU’s visibility, impact and stature in higher education and to foster collaboration in interdisciplinary research and instruction.

“The quality of MU’s faculty is reaching new levels, and that is translating into attracting even more top scientists to our campus,” says Provost Brian Foster, who will retire Dec. 31, 2013.

Another important barometer of MU academic excellence came in 1973 when The Carnegie Foundation, a respected independent policy and research center with offices at Stanford University and in Washington, D.C., began ranking universities and classified MU as a Doctoral/Research University. MU shares the classification with such high-powered schools as Harvard, Princeton and the University of Michigan.

The Research We Do

MU is not only a public land-grant university dedicated to a statewide mission of service. It is also a research titan with a global presence. In fiscal 2012, the university spent $479 million in sponsored research, instruction, public service grants and contracts, and commercial services. Since fiscal 2008, the campus has filed 365 U.S. patents and signed 227 options and leases for new technologies. To date, companies licensing products invented by MU faculty have earned $1 billion in sales revenue.

Vegas, a golden retriever, uses the water treadmill at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo by Rob Hill.

Vegas, a golden retriever, uses the water treadmill at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo by Rob Hill.

Research is wide-ranging. Fu-hung Hsieh, a biological engineering and food science professor, and Harold Huff, BS Ag ’74, MS ’81, head of MU’s Food Engineering Lab, labored a decade to invent a chicken alternative that hit the marketplace in June 2012. Months later, the Beyond Meat factory that produces the product opened in Columbia, creating Missouri jobs. In February 2013, Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne published in the online journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences his research on a radiation therapy that causes cancer remission in mice without discernible side effects. Plans are to begin clinical trials on human patients once funding is obtained and infrastructure built. If all goes as planned, the therapy could be available by 2018, says Hawthorne, a National Academy of Sciences member.

To date, companies licensing products invented by MU faculty have earned $1 billion in sales revenue.

Hawthorne credits the campus’s interdisciplinary approach, the strength of its biomedicine department and the MU Research Reactor for the therapy’s development. Indeed the reactor, opened in 1966, has been a boon to MU innovation. Under the hood of most hybrid cars is high-current electrical switching developed from reactor research, says Robert Duncan, MU vice chancellor of research, who will become the vice president for research at Texas Tech Jan. 1, 2014. MU’s reactor is No. 1 in America in shipping radioisotopes for health care applications, he says. In recent years, the following MU-developed pharmaceuticals became commercially available: TheraSphere, for treatment of liver cancer; Quadramet, for bone cancer pain; Ceretec, for use in brain imaging; and Zegerid, for heartburn relief. Three of the four used the reactor during development.

Perhaps surprisingly, MU research has benefited from the university joining the Southeastern Conference in 2012. Faculty are developing research relationships with their counterparts at the 13 other SEC universities. Also, given the broader national stage the SEC offers MU sports, a bounty of people could be motivated to learn more about what Mizzou does academically. Higher visibility might increase donor participation, as well.

At an MU campaign-planning meeting last spring, Duncan said people get motivated to give research gifts to higher learning institutions when they see a successful track record of faculty inventions hitting the marketplace. “Donors recognize that the University of Missouri has the ability to … serve humanity at every stage of life,” Duncan said. “In that we are strong.”

tiger walk

Incoming freshmen run across Francis Quadrangle in the Mizzou Alumni Association’s traditional Tiger Walk the Sunday evening before fall classes begin. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Who We Are

In fiscal 2013, MU was 44th out of 50 states in per capita support of public higher education. Tuition revenue has helped fill that gap. From 2001–13, enrollment increased 46.4 percent while state funding declined from $221 million to $193 million, a drop of 12.7 percent, budget records show.

Yet the caliber of faculty instruction remains solid. An indication of quality teaching is freshman retention rate. MU’s is 84 percent, while the national average is 78 percent. Furthermore, 71 percent of undergraduates finish in six years (the national average is 57 percent).

Tuition increases have been moderate. While the University of Missouri System raised tuition on its four campuses 2.3 percent annually during the past five years, comparable institutions in surrounding states raised theirs by about 6 percent, UM System President Tim Wolfe told the Board of Curators Jan. 31, 2013. MU stanched the shortfalls mostly through operating efficiency, Mizzou Online revenue, gifts and endowment income.

Yes, the University of Missouri has come a long way from its rugged beginnings in frontier Boone County. What began as a few structures on a dirt grid is today an enchanting 1,262-acre botanic garden.

To create a more accepting and racially diverse campus, MU launched a diversity initiative two decades ago and in 2006 formed the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative. One year later, MU started the Missouri College Advising Corps, which sends recent graduates into state high schools to help students better understand the nuts and bolts of applying to and succeeding in higher education. Many high school students counseled became first-generation college freshmen at MU and other universities. Students of various ethnicities also spend hundreds of hours in schools as mentors of underrepresented minority students.

“Our campus culture is respectful and inclusive,” says Chief Diversity Officer Noor Azizan-Gardner, BS BA ’85, MBA ’93. “We encourage meaningful diversity, which happens when people meet and engage with one another. It is really exciting to create an atmosphere where there is open engagement.”

Read a timeline of the university’s accomplishments in teaching, research, service and athletics.