UNO Looks Back at the Merger

The years surrounding the 1968 merger of the Municipal University of Omaha with the University of Nebraska was an exciting yet poignant period for OU faculty and administrators. Budget difficulties during the early 1960s, the campaign to assure the survival of OU as the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the struggles immediately following the merger to define the role UNO would have within the UN system were extremely memorable. In the years since the merger, state support contributed to increases in enrollment, campus size, and in the number and variety of academic programs. Yet, for the last fifty years UNO has been a relatively small part of a much larger university system—virtually everything that was OU during its private and municipal experiences has faded away. It is unsurprising that during interviews following these events former OU officials recalled with pride the struggles of the institution to survive and expected great success for UNO in the years ahead.

Portrait of Kirk Naylor

Kirk Naylor, circa 1971.

Kirk Naylor joined the faculty of the University of Omaha in 1960 as Dean of Administration. In 1967, he became president of the university, and he presided over the merger of the Municipal University of Omaha with the University of Nebraska System in 1968. He continued to serve as president of the University of Nebraska at Omaha until 1971, after which he served the university as a professor of Educational Administration until his retirement in 1981. Prior to coming to the University of Omaha, he worked in the Kansas public school system and at Ft. Hays Kansas State College.

In 1981, Kirk Naylor was interviewed by Paul Borge for the UNO Television series Reflections in Time. (View streaming video of the full episode.)

The first excerpt from Kirk Naylor's interview, which can be found at timestamp 07:43:11-8:10:00 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, features a key passage from Dr. Naylor, "We had a choice at that point, of remaining a good, strong four-year liberal arts institution, with perhaps programs in some of the other areas--business administration, education, engineering--but really, not really going heavily into graduate work and expanding programs. So we had a decision. Either to do that, or to find some other way to finance the university." This didn't immediately lead to the merger, but circa 1966-1968 it did lead to the first state aid that OU ever had, in the form of some funds the legislature approved for the state's junior colleges, including OU. This bought OU some time to evaluate other options, namely, the merger. (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

The second excerpt from Kirk Naylor's interview, which can be found at timestamp 10:08:14-25:08:05 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, features Dr. Naylor's extended account of how the merger took place, from the first meeting between Dr. Naylor, Regent Bob Spire, and Nebraska Senator Terry Carpenter, through the legislative bill and ratification by the voters of Omaha, through post-merger growth at UNO, and through creation of a Central Administration not located on any of the campuses. Dr. Naylor also touches on the creation of UNMC, describing it as a "spin-off" of the OU-NU merger and commenting on his conversations with then UNMC President Cecil Wittson. (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

Portrait of Robert Spire

Robert Spire, circa 1980s.

Robert Spire was a Nebraska lawyer, human rights activist, and philanthropist. He served as a member of the University of Omaha Board of Regents from 1963 through 1968, when the University of Omaha merged with the University of Nebraska and became the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He was instrumental in establishing the School of Public Affairs and Community Service at UNO in 1972, and upgrading it to the College of Public Affairs and Community Service (CPACS) in 1973. He also served as Nebraska Attorney General from 1985 until 1991, and special counsel and chief of staff to U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey from 1991 until 1992.

In 1985, Robert Spire was interviewed by Paul Borge for the UNO Television series Reflections in Time. (View streaming video of the full episode.)

In this excerpt, which can be found at timestamp 43:30:09-56:52:26 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, Robert Spire, then president of the OU Board of Regents, provides considerable detail on the Regents' role in the merger. Unanimously in fall 1966, the Regents decided that mission of the university was to serve students in Omaha who couldn't afford to go to school elsewhere. With the failure of both mil levy elections, the Regents felt that OU simply could not finance their mission. OU income came only from student fees and the mil levy; by law, OU could not borrow money. Fear of pricing their students out of their education drove the Regents to the State for funds. Nebraska was just then in the process of creating its first sales and income tax, so it seemed like a prudent move to have OU become a state institution, so some state tax money from Omaha residents would come back to Omaha. The Regents driving force through the process was a desire to ensure that students continued to have quality instructors at convenient times and affordable prices. (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

Portrait of John V. Blackwell

John V. Blackwell, circa 1976.

John V. Blackwell, also known as Vic Blackwell, was a faculty member in the Art Department (1958-1985), Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1972-1975), and Acting Chancellor (1971/72) of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

In 1983, Vic Blackwell was interviewed by Paul Borge for the UNO Television series Reflections in Time. (View streaming video of the full episode.)

In this excerpt, which can be found at timestamp 40:33:13-41:38:12 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, Vic Blackwell, who was appointed interim chancellor of UNO after Kirk Naylor was fired, discusses that the irony of the merger was that OU merged with NU in an attempt "to remain independent," but after the merger, the push from President Varner was unity. It wasn't until the 1980s that UNO started to shift back into some independence. (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

Portrait of Robert Ruetz

Robert Ruetz, circa 1973.

Robert Ruetz was a Professor of Music at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and its predecessor the University of Omaha from 1965-1990, and director of the UNO Opera Theatre.

In 1990, Robert Ruetz was interviewed by Paul Borge for the UNO Television series Reflections in Time. (View streaming video of the full episode.)

In this excerpt, which can be found at timestamp 28:27:02-30:19:01 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, Robert Ruetz asserts that the merger was good for the State of Nebraska and the City of Omaha. The merger resulted in a bigger budget for the university, which improved programs for Omaha students. He notes that, even in 1990, UNO was "still the step-child of Lincoln." (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

Portrait of Paul Borge

Paul Borge, circa 1986.

Paul Borge was a professor at OU/UNO, circa 1950s-1990s. He was head of the OU Radio-TV Department and founded both UNO's radio station KVNO and television station KYNE (UNO Television).

In 1986, Paul Borge was interviewed by Tim Fitzgerald for the UNO Television series Reflections in Time. (View streaming video of the full episode.)

In this excerpt, which can be found at timestamp 45:53:02-47:14:04 in the full episode of Reflections in Time, Paul Borge speculates that if OU hadn’t merged with NU system, we would have become a small-medium private liberal arts college, or we’d have gone out of business. In 1987, considered the merger with Lincoln to still be ongoing. (View streaming video of this excerpt.)

http://revelation.unomaha.edu/_bepress/omeka/UNO0005_Four_Years.pdf

"UNO - Four Years After Merger" is a 24-page document written by D. B. Varner, President of the University of Nebraska, as a statement presented to the faculty and staff of the University of Nebraska at Omaha on April 13, 1972. The document includes two pages of footnotes, with some statisical comparisons of the university's 1967/1968 and 1972/1973 academic years. In this presentation, Varner countered some of the concerns and anxieties felt by the UNO campus community with facts and statistics showing that the university was undergoing a period of massive growth and positive improvements.

http://revelation.unomaha.edu/_bepress/omeka/UNO0144_Random_Memories.pdf

"Random Memories of People and Experiences at OU/UNO" is an unpublished memoir written by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Emeritus Jack Newton in December 2009. This excerpt of pages 13-19 covers the events surrounding the OU-NU merger in 1968.

After the Mergers
UNO Looks Back at the Merger