What's In A Name?
August 21, 2005 - UL's name changes marked distinct eras in 105-year history
The school bell will ring tomorrow at the University of Louisiana. Students who attend the institution situated in the heart of Lafayette are stepping onto a campus that has had four distinct incarnations in its century-plus-half-a-decade of existence, along with four different names, two mascots and five presidents.
The school has evolved from the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute to the Southwestern Louisiana Institute to the University of Southwestern Louisiana to the University of Louisiana.
This often-forgotten name for the university was its first, adopted in 1900, when the institution first opened its doors.
In recent years, UL adopted a selective admissions policy, but there were admissions standards back then, too, for the first 100 students who enrolled.
"They tried to have the requirement that students had to have completed the eighth grade, but people criticized it as too stringent," said Kathleen Thames, editor of UL's magazine, La Louisiane. "There wasa posse under Sheriff Ike Broussard that was going to pull down the building if admission standards weren't eased." Thames is also the author of "100 Years: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette," which chronicles the school's history through the year 2000.
SLII president E.L. Stephens dialed back requirements to completion of the sixth grade.
"By 1907, incoming students were required to have completed the first half of seventh grade."
At its inception, the school had a definite vocational overtone, as implied by the word, "industrial" in its original moniker. Students all studied the arts and sciences, but boys were also required to take a "full course of Manual Training in wood and iron," according to Board of Trustees records, while girls had to study "Sewing, Cooking and general Domestic Science and Economy."
Students today study in a smoke-free environment, although smoking was permitted in classrooms for faculty and students during earlier decades. But in the early years, the rules were more stringent than they are today.
"In 1907, they prohibited the use of tobacco on or off the grounds," Thames said, "because several students had 'become mentally and physically incapacitated because of excessive tobacco use.' "
Admissions requirements gradually crept upward over the years. By the beginning of World War I in 1917, students were required to have graduated from high school.
"Once they started requiring a high school degree, it made them eligible to become a college," Thames said.
In 1921, the Louisiana constitution declared SLII to be an institute of higher learning, accompanied by its first name change.
"That's when it became SLI," Thames said. "To be really precise, it was formally called the Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning, but the shortened name stuck."
In 1925, the school received accreditation, putting it on a par with other colleges that issued four-year degrees.
In the 1920s, athletic events became a the center of social activity for many students.
Dances were also important.
"The Colonial Ball was a huge event each year," Thames said. "Students would dress up in period costumes and dance the waltz and minuet."
In 1934, the Camellia Pageant, an enormously popular annual event reigned over by a Camellia Queen, was established. By the 1950s, about 10,000 people attended the annual event.
By the 1930s, the student body consisted of more than 1,500 men and women. During that decade, strong school spirit was expressed in the formation of the Red Jackets, a coed spirit group that attended SLI football games.
Students back then were required to go to games and pep rallies, Thames said.
Freshmen, who ordinarily had to wear beanies, were required to show school spirit in the annual snake dance traditionally performed before the first football game each season between SLI and Stephen F. Austin.
"They would get in red and white shorts or pajamas and dance - there were 1,000 freshmen in 1939. They would parade down the main streets of Lafayette," Thames said.
The 1940s saw more serious activities.
"The campus was dominated by war," Thames said. "There was a threat of closure because so many male students and faculty members served in the military.
"That's when they flooded Cypress Grove so they would have a water source to put out fires if the enemy bombed campus."
In 1943, the school instituted the V-12, V-5 and V-7 military training programs, which attracted a total of 2,000 young men from around the country by war's end.
Technology crept into the university in 1954. An article in The Vermilion, the school's newspaper, declared that SLI had acquired "one of the rare 'so-called electronic brain machines' in the United States." The college had entered the computer age.
The last decade of the school's second incarnation also saw one of the most significant events in its history. SLI was de-segregated.
In 1960, the school achieved university status and with that came another name change.
"The name, SLI, didn't fit anymore," Thames said. The University of Southwestern Louisiana was born.
In the 1960s, a computing center was established through a $15,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
"By 1964, USL offered one of the first graduate programs in computer science," Thames said.
While student unrest over the Vietnam War marked life on other college campuses, things were relatively calm at USL. There were some protests, but they were peaceful.
"The student body reflected the changes going on in society, but in another way, they were more conservative than students on college campuses across the nation," Thames said.
In the 1960s, school spirit was high and some of the school's students brought national attention to Lafayette.
In 1960, USL student Lloyd J. "Red" Lerille was named Mr. America and later, Mr. Universe.
In 1969, freshman Ron Guidry joined the USL baseball team. Guidry, who later was known as "Louisiana Lightning" would drop out in his sophomore year to pitch for the New York Yankees and earn the Cy Young Award.
In 1971, with the help of Dwight "Bo" Lamar and Andrew Toney, USL's basketball team was ranked No. 3 in the nation and won the NCAA college division championship.
The university flirted briefly in 1984 with the idea of yet another name change. The Board of Trustees declared the school to be the University of Louisiana, but the Board of Regents soon reversed the move. It would be more than a decade before the name stuck.
In the meantime, there was a bit of confusion created.
"That year, graduates got two separate diplomas," Thames said, each with a different school name.
It was in 1999 that the school's name was officially changed to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Proponents of the name change argued that the regional designation "Southwestern" no longer reflected the nature of the university, which, by then, attracted students from all over the world and had garnered national recognition in areas such as computer science.
Like a number of other universities in the state, UL adopted a selective admissions policy, but only after the community college system was in place, Thames said.
As UL, the university entered the computer age in earnest. Computers are no longer rare, nor are they just fixtures in computer classes. Students do research on the Internet and even register for classes and check their grades online.
"These kids are so technologically sophisticated," Thames said. "They have cell phones that take photos. They have laptops. So many of the buildings on campus are wireless. The computer is invisible, now, in the sense that students expect it."
Originally published August 21, 2005