Regents History: The University of Western Iowa

In 1967, the 62nd General Assembly of Iowa passed House File 747, which provided a $34 million supplemental appropriation for capital improvements to the Regent campuses. Included in the appropriation was $500,000  earmarked “to carry out the study, planning and establishment” of a fourth Regent institution in western Iowa. 
At the August 1967 meeting, the Regents moved to use the $500,000 appropriation to “make as complete an investigation as possible” into newly established universities in other states. The Board’s executive secretary, R. Wayne Richey, was tasked with determining a location and recommending consultants.

Thomas C. Holy, co-author of A Master Plan for Higher Education in California, reached out to Richey to offer his services in the matter. Holy had directed higher education expansion projects all over the country before retiring to Prairie City and noted to Richey that his services came “free of charge.” Holy’s prior experience and education - a Ph.D. from Iowa State - made him an ideal candidate to advise the Board.

Holy addressed the Board “for several hours” at its October 1967 meeting. In summary, Holy noted that answers to “Where, what kind, how large, and when?” needed to be unearthed before any decision could move forward. Holy recommended the Board first determine the educational needs of western Iowa and the rest of the state before moving forward.

Cresap, McCormick & Paget, a consulting firm out of New York, was hired to answer Holy’s questions.

The consultants presented their findings to the Board in June 1968. Recommended sites included Atlantic, Harlan, Denison and Carroll. After much discussion on the scope and direction of the new campus, a motion to declare the Western Iowa Institution a four-year, liberal arts university passed 5-2 with two Regents absent. 
The vote demonstrated the Board’s divisiveness in the matter. Comments from Regents Ned Perrin and Jonathan Richards suggested reluctance to move forward in any capacity, while President Stan Redeker seemed keen on absorbing an existing campus - Midwestern College in Jefferson, for example - into the Regents Enterprise. Cresap, McCormick and Paget, now aided by The Perkins and Will Partnership - an architectural firm - presented to the Board again in August and November.

The November presentation was the firm’s final say on the matter. A three-volume report, outlining educational considerations, location and cost data, and site development characteristics was distributed to Board members prior to the meeting. The report stated that the Atlantic site was preferred because of its location and its “visual approaches” and “wooded slopes” offered advantages the other sites couldn’t match. An estimated sticker price of nearly $196 million was put forth, with an initial occupancy date of 1973. Enrollment, it was estimated, would reach 8,400 students by 1983.

This sticker price, the “pressing financial needs” of the existing Regents campuses, and the undetermined need for a fourth university caused the Iowa Coordinating Council for Post High School Education to support postponement of the new campus plans. At the December meeting, Regent Richards moved to inform the legislature and the Governor that the Board did not recommend moving forward with the project. Regent Perrin seconded and the motion passed 5-2.

Meanwhile, the 63rd General Assembly passed a second appropriations bill during its 1969 session, giving express permission to the Board to purchase the Atlantic property for the establishment of the Western Iowa Regent Institution. The legislature earmarked a further $330,000 for this purpose. Still, the Regents delayed, stating further study was needed. 

Representative Les Kluever of Atlantic, who had authored edits of the original appropriations bill that included wording for the fourth Regents institution, spoke to the Board at the August 1969 meeting in Ames. Kluever stated that the legislature had made its intentions clear in consecutive sessions, and that some in the general assembly were critical of the Board for not moving rapidly enough on the project. The Board requested a ruling from the Attorney General on whether it had mandatory or discretionary authority to make the land purchase.

At the September 1969 meeting, Iowa Attorney General Richard C. Turner stated in regard to the Western Iowa project: “It is the duty of the Board to proceed without further delay.” Board of Regents Executive Secretary Richey noted that if the proposed institution were to proceed beyond the purchasing of land, a minimum state appropriation of $28-$33 million would be required for just the first stage of construction.

Richey made two visits to the Atlantic site in October 1969 to finalize boundary surveys and negotiate potential purchasing options from the owners. Richey stated to the Board at its October meeting in Council Bluffs that the tentative site involved approximately 700 acres, roughly the size of the UNI campus at the time. Despite Richey’s legwork, and despite the mandate offered by Attorney General Turner’s ruling, the Board voted against establishing a new Regents institution at its November meeting, stating it would not move forward on a new institution “until studies have been carried out establishing the need.” This time, the vote was unanimous. 

With appropriated funds in hand, the Board sought to comply with Attorney General Turner’s mandate and purchase the Atlantic site. Representative Kluever appeared before the Board at its December 1969 meeting to present a proposal from the Atlantic Development Corporation. Kluever stated the corporation could present the Board with deeds to 698 acres at a cost of $556,000. Regent Ralph Wallace moved to purchase the land from the ADC, provided sufficient titles were presented. The motion passed 5-3, with Regents Ray Bailey, Perrin and Redeker voting no. The titles were presented at the January 1970 meeting and the motion to purchase the land for $556,537 was approved 6-1, with Regent Bailey voting no and Regents Thomas Louden and Perrin passing. Though he disagreed with the action, President Redeker voted yes on the motion, stating the Board’s action was a direct result of a legislative mandate.

A month later, in February 1970, the Iowa General Assembly passed Senate File 1187, which mandated the Board of Regents to terminate all actions with respect to the Western Iowa University and return all appropriated money to the state. The Board approved the return of the Atlantic site to the Atlantic Development Corporation and no further action was ever taken to establish a fourth Regents campus.

Legislators, who had twice passed authorization for the Western Iowa Institution in the years prior, stated their about face was caused by Iowa’s shaky budget situation. Senator Alan Shirley of Perry wrote in the Stuart Herald “The balance in the treasury is at rock bottom. The Governor's budget relies heavily on massive deficit spending. In view of the State's precarious financial condition, I couldn't support spending several hundred thousand dollars at this time.”

After three years of planning, hours of meetings, and many pages of preparations, The Western Iowa project ended just as quickly as it had begun.

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Proposed Characteristics of a New State Institution of Higher Education in Western Iowa

Digitized resources courtesy of Rod Library University Archives, Special Collections