Happy birthday, UF... but let's get real here


Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 10:16 p.m.

Facts

FYI: UF seals

  • A seal in transition: When Florida Agricultural College in Lake City changed its name to the University of Florida, it picked 1870 as the date for the seal.
  • When the legislature created the University of the State of Florida, as UF was orginally named, and the campus was established in Gainesville, 1905 was the date picked for the seal.
  • In 1936 UF got a lot older in a hurry, when the date was changed to 1853, the date that appears on current seal.
  • Before the changes were made, UF's seal shows that its 100th birthday is still a couple of years away, so a 150th wingding is a historical stretch.
  • It says University of Florida, but it also says Lake City. Florida Agricultural College changed its name and used 1870 as its founding date, the year it was chartered as a land-grant institution.
  • In 1936 the date on the UF seal was changed from 1905 to 1853, as it reads today.
  • A seal in transition: When Florida Agricultural College in Lake City changed its name to the University of Florida, it picked 1870 as the date for the seal.
  • When the legislature created the University of the State of Florida, as UF was orginally named, and the campus was established in Gainesville, 1905 was the date picked for the seal.
  • In 1936 UF got a lot older in a hurry, when the date was changed to 1853, the date that appears on current seal.
    The doors didn't open to 1884. UF began life as The University of the State of Florida and in 1905 the classes were held in Lake City before moving to the campus in Gainesville in 1906.
    In the background to the right, the UF infirmary can be seen under construction. The festivities were part of UF's 25th anniversary celebration.

  • Somehow I feel like the kid in the story "The Emperor's New Clothes," the one who stands up and announces that the monarch's tailors fitted him for his birthday suit.
    Now that the smoke has cleared from the 150 candles atop the University of Florida birthday cake, and all the icing has been dabbed from those dignitaries' faces, it's time to be honest here - UF won't really turn 100 for two more years.
    The hoopla over the celebration tweaks a raw nerve of one of my pet peeves - the date on the UF seal.
    Go to the UF Archives in the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections and with your gloved hands pick up one of the old catalogs and look at the seal. Right there where it now reads 1853, the seal clearly states 1905, because that's when this incarnation we now know as UF was born.
    Yeah, I know all about the East Florida Seminary and its link to 1853. The phrase "traces its roots to" is used by UF to back this up. I can trace my roots to my grandfather, but I don't use his birthday.
    There are also those historical ties to Florida Agricultural College in Lake City, which opened in 1884.
    But in 1905 the Florida Legislature killed those schools off with the Buckman Act. It consolidated seven colleges into three - one for guys in Gainesville and one for gals in Tallahassee and for blacks in Tallahassee. And the rest is history - only now the history requires a few nudges and winks.
    That's because in academia older is considered better, and some folks still think the quality of an institution is measured by the thickness of the ivy on its hallowed walls, even if on closer inspection the ivy is made of plastic.
    "The history of this institution is a little strange," said UF's archivist and assistant chair of the special collections department Carl Van Ness.
    Van Ness said in the archives there are actually three seals for the University of Florida with three different dates.
    The third variation is there because in the final years of its existence, Florida Agricultural College in Lake City changed its name to the University of Florida and decided to use the date 1870, the year it received its charter as a land grant institution, even though the doors didn't open for 14 more years - so stretching birthdays is a tradition.
    The federal legislation that created schools for studying ag and mechanical arts, the Morrill Land Grant Act, was actually passed in 1862. But Florida was temporarily out of the loop because like other Southern states, it had seceded from the union.
    "It's actually more common to use the charter date than the opening date," Van Ness explained.
    Dr. Samuel Proctor, UF's historian, said that when the school initially opened in Gainesville it wasn't known as the University of Florida - that didn't happen until 1909.
    Originally it was the University of the State of Florida; while in Tallahassee, Florida State began life as the Florida Female College and in 1909, became Florida State College for Women.
    But to the early UF pioneers, the 1905 founding date wasn't a problem, in that 1905 year classes were still held in Lake City.
    It was a small school and growing. In 1930-31 the photos in the archives show UF officials proudly celebrating its 25th anniversary. One piece of that celebration became a lasting part of the campus map.
    Proctor explained that UF President John Tigert invited leaders from Latin America to the UF campus.
    The green space in front of the library, now famous for Frisbees and Krishna lunches, was then known as the quadrangle. But to mark the occasion, it was officially dubbed the Plaza of the Americas.
    Turn the clock ahead five years, the UF seal still reads 1905. The next year, with no fanfare or hoopla, no gathering of dignitaries to add 52 candles to the orange and blue birthday cake, the seal date is changed to 1853.
    In the process UF never got to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It disappeared in what our governor's older brother would call "fuzzy math."
    Proctor said it was Tigert who was instrumental in getting the years added. While there are many stories and reasons why, Proctor is quick to share an interesting tale passed on to him.
    He explains that as UF's president, Tigert frequently took part in official gatherings and ceremonies at other institutions. Tigert would find himself in the company of other university presidents who came from schools where the seals had much older dates than 1905.
    And following long-honored protocol, when it came time for the gang to march into a hall, they'd line up based on the institution's founding date, putting Tigert on the fringe with all those Johnny-come-lately universities, rather than in the middle with the grand old guard.
    "Tigert was not happy with where he was located in line," Proctor said is how he heard the story.
    So very quietly, Tigert got Florida's attorney general to approve the change, and quicker than a nudge and a wink, he jumped several places ahead in the ceremonial lines by changing the date on the seal.
    UF isn't alone in suffering from shifting birthdays. Florida State is still trying to figure out its founding date. Proctor said FSU, also created in 1905, later latched onto 1857 for its founding.
    Then two years ago, it changed again to 1851 - the year legislation passed that allowed the state to receive support for higher education. I guess that makes it the oldest state university - wink, wink, nudge nudge.
    The change of dates did make for an interesting situation for a few veteran UF faculty members caught in the paperwork time warp. Proctor explained these professors were on campus for the 25th anniversary in 1930-31 and were still there for the centennial wingding in 1953.
    "I certainly aged fast," Proctor said was the comment from Dr. Manning J. Dauer, then chairman of UF's department of political science.
    Which brings me back to what really peeves me - the older is better mentality. I think it's more of an accomplishment to build a major institution in just 98 years.
    Why fiddle with the dates and then brag that it took you 150 years to get the same results?
    But if UF wants to celebrate its 150th - wink, wink nudge, nudge - I guess that's OK.
    But if I'm around in 2005, I'll buy myself a cupcake, stick a candle in the top, and walk over to campus. I'll then light the candle, stand in the shadow of Century Tower and enjoy hearing the bells honestly ring in the Gator centennial.
    Gary Kirkland can be reached at 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun
    .com.

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