Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute (SLII)
UL Lafayette was originally named the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute (SLII), according to the 1898 legislative act that created the school on July 14. State Senator Robert Martin, for whom UL Lafayette's administrative building is named, authored this legislation. Several towns competed to be the site of the new school; Lafayette was chosen by virtue of a donation of 25 acres of land by the Girard family. The town also put up $8,000 and offered a ten-year property tax to supplement state appropriations. By 1899, the Board of Trustees was established. In 1900 construction began and Dr. Edwin Stephens was named president. Classes began in 1901 with 100 students.
Stephens, then 27 years old, was among the youngest presidents in the nation, and yet he had a vision for the campus from his first year. He planted a grove of live oaks, the Twentieth Century Oaks, in the first year of the century. Today many of those trees loom over Johnston Street and University Avenue. Stephens later founded the national Live Oak Society, an association whose members were the trees themselves with dues of 25 acorns a year. UL Lafayette remained an industrial institute until 1921. During those years, the campus extended its academic offerings to teacher training by adding a laboratory school in 1909. When railways became a force in the area, training began in railroad service. Courses in agriculture, stenography, accounting, mechanics, and many liberal arts disciplines were added. Among UL Lafayette's early milestones were the formation of the UL Lafayette Alumni Association in 1904 and publication of the first issue of The Vermilion, the student paper, that same academic year. One very early graduate, Jefferson Caffery, would eventually become a legend within the U.S. diplomatic corps. Caffery became known as the "Dean of U.S. Diplomats" and served as ambassador to France, Brazil, and Egypt during the middle decades of the 20th century. Another alumnus distinguished himself in sports. After setting many school records, Keener Cagle played for Army and won the award that would later be known as the Heisman Trophy.
Southwestern Louisiana Institute (SLI)
By 1921, the school had outgrown its industrial role. The Constitutional Convention that year dropped the "Industrial" from the name and allowed Southwestern Louisiana Institute to grant bachelor's degrees. By this time, SLI had doubled to 50 acres and included many new classroom and dormitory buildings.
As early as 1922, UL Lafayette offered extension courses in surrounding parishes. In 1925, the school was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and a student government association was formed.
After serving for 38 years, Dr. Stephens retired in 1938. By this time enrollment exceeded 2,000 students, and the campus had grown with the addition of the 171-acre Whittington farm and the acquisition of 37 acres east of campus, where women's dormitories were eventually constructed.
UL Lafayette's second president, Mr. Lether Frazar, served only three years but is remembered for overseeing the construction of 12 new buildings, which greatly expanded the scope of the school's academic offerings.
Mr. Joel Lafayette Fletcher, who had served as dean of agriculture, became president in 1941, and he soon faced a major crisis. With the onset of U.S. involvement in World War II, enrollment plummeted and major layoffs of faculty seemed imminent. But Fletcher and his academic vice president, Dr. Joseph Riehl, went to Washington, DC and persuaded the Navy to locate its V-12 and V-5 officer training programs at SLI. This maneuver not only saved faculty jobs and academic programs; it gave UL Lafayette a phenomenal football team, as All-Americans from many colleges transferred here. SLI won the first Oil Bowl in 1943 with these players.
During the early 1940s, UL Lafayette organized a College of Engineering. When World War II ended, the school purchased 108 units of veterans housing, buildings that became known as "Vet Village" and served as married student housing for the next 30 years. The postwar years dramatically accelerated the pace of life in south Louisiana. The oil business was growing rapidly, Lafayette was becoming a medical and financial center, and several important social movements were gaining momentum.
UL Lafayette organized a College of Nursing and a College of Business Administration in 1951 and 1952, respectively. Then, in 1954, SLI became the first college in Louisiana to integrate its student body. The first African American students were admitted without incident, and today UL Lafayette has honored its first African American graduate, Christiana Smith, by naming an alumni chapter after her. Another important social milestone accomplished in 1954 was the acquisition of La Maison Acadienne Francaise. It is a stately structure at the corner of Johnston and St. Mary streets, and it is a center devoted to south Louisiana's French culture. By 1956, UL Lafayette had received approval for beginning graduate programs, and that was the beginning of the end of the college years. Four years later UL Lafayette became a university.
University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL)
In 1960, the state legislature approved renaming Southwest Louisiana Institute to the University of Southwestern Louisiana. At this time UL Lafayette was composed of a graduate school and six colleges: agriculture, business administration, education, engineering, liberal arts, and nursing. Enrollment was approaching 5,000.
Early master's degree programs were in education, French, mathematics, science, engineering, English, geography, history, Spanish, and home economics. In 1961, UL Lafayette acquired its first digital computer, and three years later it began a master's program in computer science. Dr. Clyde Rougeou, who like Mr. Fletcher had served as dean of agriculture, succeeded Fletcher as President in 1966. In 1969, UL Lafayette initiated its first doctoral degree in computer science. Other doctoral offerings begun that year were in mathematics, biology, history, microbiology, statistics, and English.
Under Rougeou's tenure UL Lafayette expanded its library, constructed Cajun Field, the former Student Union building, as well as major classroom buildings: Maxim Doucet Hall, Wharton Hall, and H.L. Griffin Hall. With an oil boom well under way, UL Lafayette's enrollment grew rapidly, and by 1974 was approaching 12,000.
Dr. Ray Authement, a former mathematics professor and academic vice president, succeeded Rougeou in 1974. Under his administration, UL Lafayette has become a nationally competitive research institution, and its grant-funded research budget has grown from a few thousand dollars in the mid-seventies to over $20 million in 1998.
UL Lafayette dramatically expanded its research capabilities. It formed the Center for Advanced Computer Studies in 1984, as an umbrella organization for graduate studies in computer science and computer engineering. UL Lafayette acquired the New Iberia Research Center, one of the nation's largest primate centers, in 1984. When a slump in the oil business created an economic depression in the 1980s, UL Lafayette formed the Louisiana Productivity Center to bring advanced manufacturing technology to the area. UL Lafayette has also launched an Apparel Computer-lntegrated Manufacturing Center, a research facility for integrating computer technology in the nation's clothing manufacturing industry.
Tremendous growth in population and industry have placed great stress on Louisiana's wetlands, and the state continues to lose about 30 square miles of coastal marshes each year. In the 1990s, UL Lafayette formed the research park, and its first client was the National Wetlands Research Center, which now works in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Service. This federal facility brought dozens of research scientists to Lafayette to research solutions for coastal environmental problems.
A second major facility, an office of the National Marine Fisheries Service Facility, was recently completed in the UL Lafayette Research Park. It will focus on fisheries management in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
UL Lafayette formed the Center for Louisiana Studies in 1973 to focus on research and preservation of the unique French-based culture of south Louisiana. This center has published more than 125 books on Louisiana, and its researchers have been active in documenting the history, folklore, music, genealogy, architecture, politics, language, and cuisine that make south Louisiana such a remarkable place. UL Lafayette's Blackham Coliseum was the site for the first Cajun music festival. In 1994, the University initiated one of only three doctoral program in Francophone studies in the world, which provides an international forum for the study of French culture.
The athletic program also experienced tremendous growth under Authement's leadership. In 1974, all of UL Lafayette's athletic programs were elevated to Division 1.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette)
For a while in the 1980s, UL Lafayette literally made a name for itself, The University of Louisiana. A subsequent act of the Louisiana Legislature nullified that name change, but Authement persisted. On September 10, 1999, his perseverance was rewarded when he walked onto a stage before an audience of alumni, visiting dignitaries, administrators, faculty, and students in the Cajundome. There, before several thousand people, with the blessing of the State of Louisiana, he signed an order that changed the university's name to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. This monumental achievement occurred as part of UL Lafayette's Centennial Celebration.
Another aspect of the celebration worth noting is the Investing in Our Future Campaign. In 1997, Authement and a group of supporters launched the campaign to increase the university's privately-held assets to $75 million with the majority of funds to be used for endowed chairs, professorships, and scholarships. The campaign reached its goals early and exceeded them.
In 1999 the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, was implemented. If a student qualified depending on high school grade point average, ACT or SAT score, or courses taken in high school, TOPS pays for a student’s tuition plus a stipend for books. In its first year TOPS allowed more than 2,000 USL students to attend the University with full tuition paid. That same year the University adopted selective admissions standards, which University President Ray Authement predicted would be “the single most significant milestone in the academic vitality of the University.” Enrollment declined initially, but it increased in subsequent years.
The University established the new Institute for Cognitive Science which had the primary responsibility of educating cognitive science doctoral students. The institute had a jump start with the help of Dr. Daniel Povinelli, who was one of 10 people in the world to receive a $1 million James. S. McDonnell Centennial Fellowship. The first class of doctoral students started with the institute in fall 1999.
With the University’s name change in September 1999, students decided the campus should have the new name placed more prominently at the various entrances to campus. The student body voted to approve a $5 fee per student for the spring, intercession, summer, and fall semesters over the 1999-2000 academic year to fund the construction of landmarks at four campus entranceways. Each gateway was estimated to cost about $50,000.
After the University’s name change and during the Centennial Celebration, the administration revealed a new University crest. This incorporates portions of Acadian and Creole flags while maintaining several design elements from the original seal created in 1926. Changes included red, gold, and green stripes to represent West African heritage and redefined oak tree leaves.
The Walk of Honor also received an update in time for the Centennial Celebration. Additional areas of campus were paved and each graduate from 1903 to 2000 had a brick laid with his/her name, bringing the total number of commemorative bricks to more than 80,000.
The year 2000 marked the beginning of a period of campus expansion, renovation, and construction. The building boom was different from past construction projects because of how the projects were financed — the majority of building and renovation projects were financed with revenue generated by the University, not money provided by the Louisiana Legislature.
From 2000 to 2015, 18 new construction projects were completed on campus:
- Moody Hall, which houses the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration
- Legacy Park, on-campus apartments for students
- Hilliard Art Museum
- Forrest K. and Chantal Dowty Foundation Centre Building
- Bourgeois Hall Student Aquatic Center
- Child Development Center
- Cajundome Convention Center
- Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise
- Oliver Hall, which houses the Computer Science programs
- Three parking towers
- A number of new dorms
- Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning
- Student Union
In that same time 17 other buildings or areas were renovated or expanded:
- New Iberia Research Center
- Judice-Rickels Hall
- French House
- Madison Hall
- Marine Survival Training Center
- Edith Garland Dupré Library
- F.G. Mouton Hall
- Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Complex
- Martin Hall
- Angelle Hall percussion annex
- Track and soccer complex
- Bourgeois Hall Fitness Center
- Burke-Hawthorne Hall and KRVS
- Fletcher Hall and the Visual Arts Annex
- O.K. Allen Hall
In addition, the Quadrangle underwent a complete makeover in 2014.
The University’s research capacities also expanded during the first decade of the new millennium. In 2001 UL Lafayette joined the Southeastern Universities Research Association which has 63 member universities in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
In that year UL Lafayette also established the Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism to assist cultural and environmental tourism efforts across the state. The Center brings together research associates from five of the University’s nine academic colleges. Advanced degree offerings also expanded that year, with two new programs: Doctorate in Communicative Disorders and Master of Architecture.
2002 was a big year for campus construction as Voorhies and McCullough dorms, built in 1963, were demolished to make way for Legacy Park and the Child Development Center. The $2.3 million Student Aquatic Center opened in Bourgeois Hall making UL Lafayette one of five universities in the nation with a sophisticated swimming pool complex. Students opted to increase a self-assessed recreational services fee from $2 to $22 a semester to fund the construction of a new weight room and additional recreational fields. Construction on the Cajundome Convention Center was completed. The $8.4 million Hilliard Art Museum broke ground at the corner of E. St. Mary Boulevard and Girard Park Circle. The museum received a $3 million gift through the UL Lafayette Foundation to begin the construction process.
In 2003 the art museum complex was completed: first, the 30,000 square-foot-newly constructed museum, and second, the renovation of the A. Hays Town building. The new museum building has won multiple awards from the American Institute of Architects.
Also in 2003, the Legacy Park apartment complex was completed. The new Child Development Center also opened in the fall and provides affordable child care for children of students, faculty, and staff at the University. Programming and activities there are designed to keep young brains stimulated and also provide an immersive environment for UL Lafayette students from the College of Education and Human Development.
The following year The U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center expanded in capability and space. Housed in the Research Park, the Wetlands Center doubled its facility space and its staff size to focus even more efforts on studying Louisiana’s ecosystems and the erosion of Louisiana’s coastline.
With all of these campus and academic expansion efforts came national recognition. For the first time, UL Lafayette was named to the Princeton Review’s Best Colleges Guide in the 2005 edition. The guide, first published in 1992, ranks the top 15 percent of universities in the country. The rankings are based on student surveys which cover academics, administration, and student and campus life.
With the new school year came one of the country’s worst natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina ravaged southeastern Louisiana in August 2005, and one month later Hurricane Rita struck southwestern Louisiana. With so many evacuees there was an influx of displaced persons into Lafayette. UL Lafayette students and employees worked tirelessly to help. Evacuees were housed at the Cajundome, where nursing and child and family studies students helped assist with the response. The University furnished lodging for medical personnel and offered mini classroom sessions for displaced students.
In all, more than 84,000 students in the Louisiana higher education systems were displaced. Louisiana colleges and universities lost $150 million in revenue from tuition and fees, and the state’s higher education budget was cut by $75 million to accommodate for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita’s impact on the state budget. UL Lafayette had to absorb some of these budget cuts and University President Dr. Ray Authement decided the University would adopt a new schedule in order to reduce utility costs. The University is now open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That move saved the University about $200,000 per year.
Even with the unexpected changes, University administration, employees, and students continued to forge ahead with campus and academic expansion. In 2006 the new LITE (Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise) Center opened which provides visualization environments to transform huge amounts of complex data into workable 3-D models. The LITE Center is the world’s first completely digital 3-D data visualization facility. It was developed for use in any technology-rich field, including oil and gas, medicine, manufacturing, engineering, urban design, biotechnology, aerospace engineering, and entertainment.
The new B.I. Moody III Hall construction and F.G. Mouton renovation were completed that year. The University added a new educational doctorate through a partnership with Southeastern Louisiana University.
In 2007 the new computer science building, Oliver Hall, opened, and the Leon C. Moncla practice facility at Cajun Field was completed. To assist with the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics program, UL Lafayette established the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation to provide annual financial support for the 16 intercollegiate sports at the University. The foundation’s fundraising efforts play a direct role in allowing our students to compete at the highest level of NCAA Division I competition.
During the state’s recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, UL Lafayette joined forces with 20 other public and private organizations to form the National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies (NIMSAT) Institute. The NIMSAT Institute works with organizations to cover homeland security and emergency management responses before, during, and after natural and man-made disasters in the U.S leading first responders, academic researchers, and technology experts to enhance national resiliency. Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, a member of the UL Lafayette faculty, was named the first executive director in 2008.
That year the University also established its own emergency notification system to send voice messages, e-mails, and text messages to alert registered users to emergencies on campus. The University has used the ENS during weather emergencies and perceived threats to campus.
2008 brought a large change in the University’s administration. University President Dr. Ray Authement retired after serving 34 years as president, making him the longest serving president of a public university in the country. Dr. Authement was on campus for more than 50 years after enrolling as a student in the 1950s. As an undergraduate student at Southwestern Louisiana Institute he worked as a physics lab instructor, and then returned in 1957 as an associate professor of mathematics. He was named professor two years later and continued to teach until 1966 when he was named academic vice president. In 1973 he was promoted to acting president and then was named president in 1974.
Dr. E. Joseph Savoie took over as UL Lafayette president in 2008 just as the U.S. economy entered a nose dive. Between 2008 and 2013 the University’s state funding was cut by $44 million which was almost half of the school’s operating budget. To offset those cuts, Dr. Savoie led the charge to raise tuition and cut expenses, and he also creatively restructured departments and offices.
Despite the decrease in University funds from state government, UL Lafayette continued to improve. In 2009, Burke-Hawthorne Hall completed its major overhaul, which provided renovated space for campus radio station KRVS and the Department of Communication.
That year UL Lafayette was recognized for something that the University’s first president Dr. Edwin Stephens knew to be important — the abundance of trees on campus. UL Lafayette was named a Tree Campus USA for its efforts to sustain and increase the number of trees on campus. There are more than 250 live oak trees on campus, including the Centennial Oaks that Dr. Stephens himself planted on January 1, 1901. During the 2009-2010 school year students, faculty, and staff helped plant 100 more trees on campus.
Campus sustainability efforts gathered steam that year. Students worked to establish the Geaux RED program, or Recycle Everything Daily. After years of preparation, students from the School of Architecture and Design and the College of Engineering competed in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon with the BeauSoleil Solar Home. The home, powered completely by solar energy, earned first place in the People’s Choice and Market Viability competitions.
In 2010, the University unveiled its new Quality Enhancement Plan, which focuses on improving student learning through community and campus engagement. Between 2010 and 2014 all colleges at UL Lafayette implemented the UNIV 100 course requirement. UNIV 100, designed by professor Dr. Theresa Wozencraft, is targeted specifically for millennials and is aimed to help them achieve greater academic success and to prepare them for life after college. Community service is a mandatory aspect of the course, and students perform hundreds of thousands of hours each year.
In summer 2010 the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico initiated a flurry of research activity at UL Lafayette. Researchers and professors set out to see how the oil spill would affect the Gulf’s ecosystems, focusing specifically on crustaceans and whales.
That October UL Lafayette opened the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international center for scholarship on the immensely successful African American author of fiction. Gaines was a writer-in-residence at UL Lafayette from 1981 to 2004, and he published "A Gathering of Old Men" and "A Lesson Before Dying" during his tenure here.
With the University’s increased focus on research came more recognition. In 2010, UL Lafayette was named one of the country’s top 100 research universities by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Between fall 2011 and summer 2012 new dormitories were constructed and opened. The project required the demolition of nine buildings plus restoration and renovation of five others. These efforts increased the campus housing capacity by 37 percent so the University can house just under 3,000 students now.
In 2011, UL Lafayette expanded its academic offerings to include online learning. The Office of Distance Learning’s first online degree program was approved. The University now offers eight different online programs in nursing, health education, and systems technology.
In 2012, after multiple years of preparation, the University unveiled the Master Plan. The plan aims to connect main campus, south campus, and the research park while continuing to improve campus facilities and operations. Students voted to support a self-assessed fee at $7.50 per credit hour capped at 15 hours to fund the implementation of the Master Plan.
Campus improvements that year included the new Cecil J. Picard Center for Childhood Development and Lifelong Learning in the Research Park, the Bourgeois Hall fitness center expansion, and the Saucier Wellness Center in the renovated O.K. Allen Hall.
Research activity at the University continued to flourish. UL Lafayette established the Center for Visual and Decision Informatics (CVDI), a partnership with Drexel University created to tackle big data research out of the LITE Center. Through its efforts, organizations can maximize their abilities to evaluate and analyze complex data. CVDI made history when it was named Louisiana’s first National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.
2012 also saw the implementation of higher undergraduate admissions standards. Instead of a decline in enrollment, which was anticipated, the University experienced an increase in enrollment. With the new admissions standards came students who were more prepared to handle the demands of higher education, improving the University’s retention and graduation rates.
UL Lafayette earned another first-time accolade in 2012 when the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency list named UL Lafayette the most affordable four-year public university in Louisiana. In 2013 Washington Monthly cited that affordability when it named UL Lafayette as No. 4 in the country for social mobility among national universities.
As Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics programs grow, the University saw the need for a separate Athletic Master Plan which was unveiled in 2013. The first project, expansion of the Cajun Field south end zone, was completed in fall 2014 on the heels of the most successful year in Ragin’ Cajuns athletic history.
Construction on the new Student Union began in 2013, and the $36 million project was completed in early 2015.
UL Lafayette has exceeded 19,000 in enrollment with students from 98 countries — and as enrollment rises, so has the University’s graduation rate. Between in 2004 and 2014, the graduation rate has risen by more than 49 percent and is currently the third highest in the state among public universities.
UL Lafayette now offers 99 undergraduate degree, 33 masters degree, and 9 doctoral degree programs. Its alumni number more than 103,000.
Achieving R1 Status
In 2021, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette achieved the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s elite R1 designation, or a university with “very high research activity.”
Carnegie bases a university’s status on several factors, including its annual research expenditures, the size of its research staff with terminal degrees, and the number of doctoral degrees it awards each year. The Center for Postdoctoral Research at Indiana University produces the Carnegie Classification. It has been the leading framework for describing U.S. colleges and universities for nearly a half century.