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Our History


Founded in 1904, what we know now as Oklahoma City University had several names and locations in its early years. One thing has remained constant; the university has remained firmly attached to its Methodist roots.

The first incarnation of OCU was a little school called Epworth University. Anton Classen was heavily involved with development in his community and had been in love with the idea of a Methodist university in Oklahoma. Classen managed to generate interest in this idea and in 1901 two branches of the Methodist Church embarked on the establishment of a Methodist university. Construction began in 1902 and classes started in 1904 with enrollment growing by almost 100 students during that first year.

Epworth closed in 1911, but classes began at OCU’s second incarnation — Oklahoma Methodist University, in Guthrie — only months later.

In 1919, trustees decided to close the Guthrie location and make a fresh start in Oklahoma City with a new institution called Oklahoma City College. With funding from the Methodist congregations, new college grounds were planned and built-in 1922. The school thrived in its new home and its successful transition was formally acknowledged when OCC changed its name to Oklahoma City University in 1924.

OCU emerged from the Depression intact. As Dr. Cluster Smith assumed the presidency, new challenges emerged: namely, World War II.

As the country entered the war, OCU was in need of new facilities. Male students abandoned their studies to join the military, and in 1942, about 75 percent of the student body was women. A shortage of players and funds caused many of the athletic programs to shut down, including the beloved football team.

The end of the war in 1945 brought about an unprecedented surge in enrollment. As a result, there was an extraordinary amount of development through the remainder of the ’40s. Construction on a particularly special addition — the Gold Star Building, which memorialized the Americans felled by World War II — began in 1949.

The ’50s got off to a great start with the university achieving its long-time goal of earning accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. They also absorbed the Oklahoma City College of Law and embarked upon the Great Plan – a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed to elevate the academic discourse and thereby deepen the quality of education offered to all students.

From very early on, it was clear that the Great Plan was a great success. It inspired positive changes across campus and a move toward interdisciplinary approaches at all levels. Departments worked together to create courses that approached lofty topics from a variety of perspectives and taught students to look at life in a new way. OCU’s spiritual life was also under construction and the Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel was dedicated in 1968. That same year, Jane Jayroe had become OCU’s first student to earn the title of Miss America and programs across campus were thriving.

By 1980, Bishop Paul Milhouse and the Annual Conference of Oklahoma Methodist churches had raised more than $3 million for OCU, resulting in increased enrollment and deepened OCU’s relationship with the Methodist Church.

OCU alumnus, Jerald Walker, became president in 1979. Walker cultivated a climate of prosperity and placidity to the university in record time. Quickly, he made a series of changes that were engineered for maximum impact. Facilities were improved, new programs were offered and students were aggressively recruited. During the ’80s, law students moved into their new home, Susan Powell became the school’s second Miss America, the school of religion joined the campus and a new nursing program was launched. The Oklahoma Opera and Music Theater Company was founded in 1982 and programs expanding OCU’s international presence were established.

Stephen Jennings became the university’s new leader in 1998, focusing on keeping the university in tip-top shape for its 100th birthday. Jennings oversaw the transformation from the Chiefs to the Stars and launched the Distinguished Speakers Series.

A few years later, in 2001, Tom McDaniel became president and led the university through several transformative years. The enhancement of university facilities included renovations to the Ann Lacy Visitor and Admissions Center, the Norick Art Center, the Tom and Brenda McDaniel University Center, and the Edith Kinney Gaylord Center as well as new construction of the Bass Music Center, Meinders School of Business and United Methodist Residence Hall.

The two-year period in which OCU observed its centennial afforded abundant opportunities for celebration. It began and ended with the dedications for two major additions to its campus, the Meinders School of Business and the Wanda L. Bass School of Music. In 2007, OCU also had the opportunity to take part in what could only be described as a historic moment for both the city and the university – the Head of the Oklahoma Centennial Regatta. The event helped develop and showcase the Oklahoma River while bringing the top rowing talent to Oklahoma to compete. Now, the university boasts a top rowing program, which includes a boathouse — complete with elite training elements, such as an altitude chamber and indoor rowing tank — in the flourishing Boathouse District. Building on the tradition started with the state’s centennial; each fall OCU hosts the Head of the Oklahoma rowing competition as part of the festivities of the Oklahoma Regatta.

President Robert Henry became the university’s 17th president in 2010. OCU has connected with the community and pledged to be its partner in meeting the economic and cultural needs of our citizens through premier education programs. To that end, community service has become a formal element of the curriculum requirements at OCU.

Under President Henry’s leadership, the Oklahoma City University School of Law moved to its downtown location in 2015, connecting students more closely with internship and employment opportunities.

Through the Bass School of Music, the university now features the world’s only formal partnership between an undergraduate music education program and an El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra. The university continues to host numerous speakers and distinguished guests, recently including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Journalist and Political Commentator Bill Moyers, and Interfaith Youth Core Founder and President Eboo Patel.

Martha Burger became the 18th president — and first female president — of OCU in 2018. She was named to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.

While OCU president, the university added a program in game design and animation and an esports team. The School of Theatre was the first and only American school to become a member of the World Theatre Education Alliance based in Beijing, China. OCU was named one of the Great Colleges to Work For in 2019. The College of Health Professions was established in 2021 to include the Kramer School of Nursing, Physician Assistant Program and Physical Therapy Program, and any other health care programs added in the future.

President Burger was extremely active in civic and professional organizations as well as statewide initiatives. She has a long history with Oklahoma City University, earning her MBA from OCU in 1992 and joining the Meinders School of Business Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Honor in 2011. She served as a trustee and chair of the university’s Audit and Finance Committee. She also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2012.

Dr. Kenneth R. Evans began his term as the 19th president on July 1, 2021. Evans came to OCU after serving as president of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, for eight years.

Prior to his presidency at Lamar, Evans was dean of the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma for six years. Before that, he served in a variety of administrative roles at the University of Missouri-Columbia and as a marketing professor at Arizona State University.

Evans' tenure at OCU has been marked by growing enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as the addition of several new academic programs, online learning initiatives and community partnerships.

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