UNO Before the Merger
The University of Nebraska Omaha was founded as the University of Omaha in September 1908 under the sponsorship of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Omaha. Although Presbyterian clergy were prominent among its founders, the new university welcomed students of all faiths. Classes began in fall 1909 in the old Redick home on the southwest corner of 24th & Pratt streets north of downtown. OU was a small Bible-centered campus with an enrollment that grew slowly but steadily.
Securing adequate funding for the institution was always a problem and for two decades faculty and administrators fought a losing battle to establish a sound financial basis for the university. By 1930, the University of Omaha was burdened by debt and had only two options: close its doors or become a municipal institution. In May, after a lengthy campaign during which OU boosters attempted to educate Omaha voters about the benefits of a “Muni Uni,” the electorate approved the creation of a Municipal University of Omaha. The ballot measure passed with a slim 50.8% of the vote.
Omaha’s second “OU” strengthened its applied arts and sciences curriculum as the numbers of students, faculty, and academic programs gradually increased. Space concerns prompted a search for a new location. In 1938 OU moved campus to 60th & Dodge St., which was then west of the metropolitan area. In the years after World War II Municipal University of Omaha enrollment skyrocketed, swelled by returning service men and women.
By the mid-1960s enrollment had increased nearly 1,000% and OU was virtually unrecognizable as the institution rescued by Omaha voters in 1930. Near the end of its “Muni Uni” days, the university shared a few characteristics with the earlier, much smaller school. First, the Municipal University of Omaha remained close-knit and tradition-rich. Due in part to a very strong Greek community, a wide array of contests, social occasions, activities, and sporting events were entrenched in campus life. Many years of these traditions had, by 1968, created a strong OU identity and a sense of pride and camaraderie among the university community of students, faculty, and alumni.
Insufficient funding was the second similarity between the OU of the mid-1960s and the OU of the early 1930s. Municipal University of Omaha budgets had always been tight but, in the spring of 1966, the failure of Omaha voters to increase the tax levy resulted in a crisis. The corresponding 30% tuition increase led to a dramatic drop in enrollment. It appeared that OU again had only two options: close its doors or become a state institution.