EDMOND — Two university annuals sit on a corner lamp stand outside the office of Don Betz, president of the University of Central Oklahoma. One is “The Bronze Book,” the 1937 annual of Central State Teachers College. The other is the 1987 annual of Central State University.
Between them are 50 years.
Another 25 years have passed since the latter.
Hanging on nearby walls are historic photos of “Old North.”
It is the cornerstone building of UCO, Oklahoma’s third largest university with more than 17,000 students.
The University of Central Oklahoma is the oldest institution of higher learning in Oklahoma, dating to Dec. 24, 1890, when the Territorial Legislature voted to establish the Territorial Normal School.
When Betz talks of vision, he speaks about the passion those before had.
“Look at people standing on rafters with a hammer and a saw and look at what we refer to as Old North,” Betz said. “You can say to yourself someone had an idea that if you were going to have a society that lasts here, education was fundamental and critical to its success.
“We inherited that vision and now we have to perpetuate it in this era with these tools. The tools are changing dramatically, but to me the vision hasn’t changed.”
Work started in the summer of 1892 on Old North Tower and it was occupied the following January.
The school initially operated as a normal school with two years of college work and a complete preparatory school. In 1897, the first graduating class — two men and three women — received their Normal School diplomas.
Although those numbers are small, Betz said, to this day it is important to think about small numbers when envisioning the vast potential of the university.
Focus on future
“I constantly think of this, there is a little girl or a little boy sitting in a class somewhere and they may be in pre-K or first grade,” Betz said. “Everything we’re doing now is for them. They’ll never know our name and they don’t need to know our name; the point is ‘Did we do it right?’”
Today, UCO boasts 450 full-time and 400 adjunct faculty and staff. The university offers 116 undergraduate majors and 58 graduate programs. Those programs include forensic science, music theater, mass communications, accounting, an accredited Professional Golf Management program, jazz studies, a funeral service program and the Academy of Contemporary Music at UCO, located in downtown Oklahoma City’s Bricktown district. There are many other successful programs as well.
UCO is the nation’s only university named an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.
The university’s 210-acre campus is located in the ever-growing metro city of Edmond.
“We have very high expectations,” Betz said. “We are in the midst of a strategic planning process that goes out about seven to 10 years, but really the vision carries you much further.