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Florida Atlantic University

In 1955 the Florida Legislature authorized a fifth state university, to be located in southeast Florida. Boca Raton banker Thomas F. Fleming, Jr. made it his mission to secure the former Boca Raton Air Field for the new facility. The City of Boca Raton offered 1,250 acres of the airbase to the state for the purpose, with the support of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

The Board of Control (then the governing body for the State University System of Florida) endorsed Fleming’s proposal in 1957, but three years later, the state legislature refused to provide funding. The Board of Control required the community to raise at least $100,000 for start-up expenses. Fleming organized Endowment Corporation for a university in Boca Raton, which raised $300,000. Fleming pledged 1% of three years’ worth of the pre-tax earnings of the First Bank and Trust Company of Boca Raton, which he headed.

The Florida Legislature authorized the new university in 1961, with a planned opening of September 1964. A bond issue proposed by Gov. Farris Bryant, after being challenged unsuccessfully in court, provided $5.3 million to build Florida Atlantic University (FAU), the name chosen by the Board of Control. The board appointed Dr. Kenneth Rast Williams as FAU’s first president; Williams and his staff first operated from the Army Air Field’s former fire station.

Florida Atlantic University opened on September 14, 1964, six days behind schedule due to Hurricane Cleo. On hand to dedicate the university was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose Florida election campaign was being managed by Tom Fleming. The president and governor received FAU’s first honorary doctorates; Fleming received its first Distinguished Service Award.

FAU was the first university in the nation to offer only upper-division and graduate work. The initial student body of 867 was well below the expected 2,000.
 

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