UNO at 50

See related stories: Persona, pg. 22 and Chronicles, pg. 168.

For most of its existence, it has been known as the University of New Orleans, though it was originally christened as LSUNO. Still young compared to its Uptown elders, the university is celebrating its first half-century this school year. Here are our picks, in ascending order, of some notable influences to date.

10. Discovering new geography. Many students raised in the New Orleans area discovered parts of town that they weren’t familiar with when they started attending UNO. Franklin Avenue, Elysian Fields, the east campus – and just who was Leon C. Simon? The very act of going to UNO broadened students’ perspective of the city.

9. Barrier breaking. Racial segregation was a sensitive issue in 1958 when the university first opened, but not on the lakefront where the doors were open to all from the start. Even with the coming of nearby Southern University of New Orleans, which would be targeted toward black students, the new university quickly established a reputation for inclusion. Many students experienced racially mixed classes for the first time on the lakefront campus.

8. John Altazan. He decided to stay for a while. The professor served as the dean of the university’s College of Business Administration for more than 30 years. During his tenure the university’s business school expanded from four faculty members overseeing one class of freshmen to four departments with more than 4,500 students. Altazan was one of the longest serving business school deans in the country.

7. Name prestige. Whether it’s public or private, it’s good for a city to have its name attached to a university. Other southern cities: Houston, Memphis, Louisville, Jacksonville and Miami, all have it. Once the “LS” was dropped from the university’s name, New Orleans could stand out as a place, not just for playing, but also for learning.

6. New residents. As universities tend to do, UNO has, through the decades, attracted faculty members and staff who became part of a professional economy. Many decided to stay and have remained active in the community.

5. Stephen Ambrose. There have been many great faculty members at UNO but none with the fame of this history professor. Ambrose was an expert in many areas of American history but it was his expertise about World War II, especially after having been Dwight Eisenhower’s biographer, that most distinguished him. During the mid 1990s, as various events from the war reached their 50th anniversary, Ambrose was a regular on TV documentaries. Without Ambrose’s expertise, connections and his financial generosity, there would be no National World War II museum in New Orleans. The museum isn’t only internationally important but is helping stabilize the warehouse district revival. Ambrose carried the battle flag – and waved it victoriously.

4. Connections. All universities do this, but UNO allowed it to happen to more people more often. The town is filled with friendships, relationships, business partnerships and even marriages that were linked by connections made on the campus. Without UNO many, many locals would be a lot poorer in terms of whom they know.

3. An urban university. From the beginning, UNO has seen its mission as being different from that of other college campuses. Through the years, UNO faculty with expertise in urban planning, economics and business have provided knowledge and leadership to the community. Sometimes the university may have overextended its reach but it has always been active in the community, including its current mission of managing effective charter schools. New Orleans is a lot smarter because of the university.

2. Academic standards. Never in its existence has UNO had a reputation for being an easy or pushover university. (To the contrary in its early days some quickly departed students referred to it as “Flunk Out U.”) With its current load of 43 undergraduate degree programs, 37 masters and 11 doctoral programs, UNO remains as a solid, no-nonsense university.

1. Making a middle class. Prior to 1958, New Orleans could be described as a city with a small but pronounced upper class, a huge underclass and a weak and faltering middle class. It is hard to imagine that the city went 240 years from its founding without having a permanent public university. Until UNO, local students ready for college had to either be able to get into a private university or leave town. UNO changed that by giving a chance at higher education to many people who might have otherwise been denied. The school has always been a commuter college, its students often holding jobs while matriculating. Through five decades, UNO has given those students a chance to advance themselves and the city an opportunity to escape its former third-world reputation. In its own quiet way, UNO may have saved the place whose name it carries – and no more can be asked of any university. Let us know what you think.
Any comments about this article? Write to errol@renpubllc.com. For the subject line use: UNO AT 50. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, as a letter to the editor. Please include your name and location.

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