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The University of Tulsa (TU) is a private, nonsectarian institution whose origins lie in the efforts of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions to evangelize American Indian girls through education. The board established the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls, a small boarding school in Muskogee, Indian Territory, in 1882. Alice Robertson headed the institute beginning in 1885.

In 1894 William Robert King of the Synod of Indian Territory asked the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions in New York City to elevate the academy's status and charter it as Henry Kendall College, to honor their late general secretary and devoted missionary. With William A. Caldwell as president the new college held its first classes in September 1894. King became president in 1896. The school struggled through its first decade until 1906 when school officials asked the Synod of Indian Territory to assume control as trustees and to seek a new location for the college. The citizens of oil-boom Tulsa presented an attractive bid to the trustees in 1907. The college moved to temporary quarters in Tulsa until the 1908–09 academic term when new structures were completed.

In 1919 the Southern Methodist Church was preparing to establish a new college in Tulsa. Since Tulsa was not large enough to support two colleges in competition, the trustees suggested that the proposed McFarlin College and Henry Kendall College merge. In 1921 the University of Tulsa was formed. Articles of incorporation were changed in 1926 to finalize the merger and sever the authority of the Synod from the school, thus creating a self-perpetuating board of trustees.

Chancellor John D. Finlayson took over in 1928. During his tenure he made a number of sweeping changes that eventually solidified TU as an independent institution recognized for the quality of its curriculum and faculty. The first of these changes was the opening of a petroleum engineering school. Within two years there were three new buildings, which were dedicated on June 1, 1930. They included the McFarlin Library, the Tyrrell Fine Arts Building, and the Phillips Petroleum Engineering Building.

In 1935 Clarence I. Pontius became president. He oversaw the establishment of the School of Business Administration. Under his guidance TU survived the Great Depression and the war years of the 1940s. The downtown law school, having previously been only loosely affiliated with the university, became the School of Law in 1943. The school's international reputation continued to grow, especially in the petroleum and geology fields. During this period Petroleum Abstracts was established as an abstracting service to make information easily accessible to the oil and gas industry.

In 1959 Ben Graf Henneke, a TU alumnus and professor, became the university's president. During his administration the institution was modernized to keep pace with the world of the 1960s. In 1966 the James A. Chapman Endowment aided these changes. J. Pascal Twyman became president in 1968. During his tenure the university achieved international stature through the enhancement of its graduate programs. Therefore, the international student body increased.

Curriculum changes made in the 1980s stressed the core education areas of mathematics, writing, and languages. Ten endowed chairs were created, thereby increasing faculty diversity and strength. As teaching and research received more emphasis, the library's circulating collection and the rare book and manuscript collections grew. Also in the 1980s, computerization and networking received greater importance. In recognition of TU's academic strength, a Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established in 1988.

Robert Donaldson's presidency brought about a restructuring of the colleges, as well as the recognition of university's centennial. The athletics department rose to the NCAA Division I level. Beginning in 1996 Robert Lawless pushed the university into a period of economic growth and construction. New buildings included the Donald W. Reynolds Center arena in 1999, the new Legal Information Center and the Boesche Law Clinic in 2000, the Donna J. Hardesty Sports Complex and the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in 2001, the Fulton and Susie Collins Fitness Center in 2002, and new student housing. Steadman Upham became president in 2004. He challenged the university to further increase its levels of academic excellence, as well as enrollment. Upham has emphasized primary research for both faculty and undergraduates. Construction projects included the Bayless and King Rogers Fountain plazas, a new south entrance, and Collins Hall.

At the turn of the twenty-first century the University of Tulsa enrolled 4,174. The institution comprised the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business Administration, the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, the College of Law, the Graduate School, and the Division of Continuing Education. There were thirty-two endowed chairs and professorships. TU offered fifty-eight bachelor's degrees, thirty-three master's degrees, and ten doctoral degrees and the J.D. degree. The university's affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) remains through a mutually articulated covenant with the Synod of the Sun (comprised of Presbyterians in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas). Tulsa University is considered one of the Presbyterian Church's largest doctoral degree–granting institutions of higher education.

Marc Carlson


"Education, Higher—Oklahoma—Tulsa," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Guy William Logsdon, The University of Tulsa: A History, 1882–1972 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Marc Carlson, “University of Tulsa,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=UN014.

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