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Union University

About Union

About Union


Union University is an heir of three antebellum Tennessee schools-West Tennessee College and its predecessor, Jackson Male Academy, both located at Jackson, and of Union University, located at Murfreesboro-and it is the inheritor of another college in 1927, Hall-Moody Junior College of Martin, Tennessee.

Jackson Male Academy, founded in 1823 shortly after the opening of West Tennessee for settlement, was chartered by the legislature in 1825.

Union University Presidents Heritage Center Bicentennial (2023)

Bicentennial Documentary

West Tennessee College

West Tennessee College originated in the mid-1840s when supporters of the Academy secured a charter for a college and received an endowment from the state to come from the sale of public lands. Under its charter, the property rights and governance of the Jackson Male Academy were vested in the trustees of the College. The College offered three degrees- bachelor of arts, bachelor of philosophy, and master of arts- and had four departments: Moral Philosophy, Languages, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy and Chemistry.

Southwestern Baptist University and Tennessee Baptists

West Tennessee College continued until 1874, when at a time of depressed economic conditions, the trustees offered the College's buildings, grounds, and endowment to Tennessee Baptists in the hopes of attracting the southwestern regional university planned by the state's Baptist leaders.

Meanwhile, after years of discussion and the raising of an endowment, the Baptists of Middle Tennessee (there were three separate conventions in Tennessee at that time) in 1848 established Union University in Murfreesboro, near the geographical center of the state. Union University came upon hard times when in 1859 its highly respected president, Joseph H. Eaton, died and when during the Civil War its campus was badly damaged. It reopened in 1868 only to close again in 1873, largely because of its financial condition and an epidemic of cholera.

Southwestern Baptist University, the immediate predecessor of the present Union University, originated because of a desire by Tennessee Baptists, who still had a separate convention for each of the state's three Grand Divisions, for greater unification. Education became the core issue around which such unification was promoted. Committees of the three conventions met jointly in Humboldt in 1873 and issued a resolution supporting the establishment of a first-class regional university. An Educational Convention met in Murfreesboro in 1874, at which time a committee was appointed to select a location for the proposed university. The committee recommended the acceptance of the offer made by the citizens of Jackson to assume ownership of West Tennessee College.

Southwestern becomes Union University

In September 1874, the new Tennessee Baptist-related institution opened in Jackson, and in 1875 it was chartered as Southwestern Baptist University. In 1907, Dr. T. T. Eaton, a trustee at Southwestern from its beginning, bequeathed his 6,000 volume library to the institution. He was a former professor at the Murfreesboro campus, where his father, Dr. Joseph H. Eaton, had been president. In 1907 the name of Southwestern Baptist University was changed to Union University to honor the Eatons and others from the Murfreesboro campus who had made a major impact on Southwestern as faculty, administrators, trustees, and contributors. In a further move to unify its educational efforts, the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 1925 secured a new charter for the University in conjunction with the adoption of the Cooperative Program and clarity regarding the election of the University's trustees. Two years later, the Convention was able to consolidate Hall-Moody Junior College at Martin (1900-1927) with Union University. During the 1920s, Union discontinued its graduate program, its Law Department, and its high school and added a bachelor of music degree program.

After a major campus fire in 1912, several new buildings were constructed, including Barton Hall, the centerpiece of the Jackson campus for the next 60 years. In 1948, during the administration of President Warren F. Jones (1945-62), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted Union University its original accreditation. In 1962, at the request of area healthcare leaders, Union developed a nursing program with the assistance of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

The Move to North Jackson Campus in 1975

Because of an aging and landlocked campus, Union, in 1975, moved from near downtown to a new campus located along Highway 45-Bypass in north Jackson. During the administrations of President Robert Craig (1967-85) and President Hyran Barefoot (1986-1996), enrollment increased from less than 1,000 students to nearly 2,000; the multipurpose Penick Academic Complex was enlarged several times; many additional housing units were erected; and the Blasingame Academic Complex (1986) and the Hyran E. Barefoot Student Union Building (1994) were constructed.

The Building Years - 1995-2014

When David S. Dockery was elected as the fifteenth president of Union University in December 1995, he brought with him a compelling vision to build on a great tradition while taking Union to the next level of regional and national prominence in Christian Higher Education. During his tenure the university grew in its commitment to the integration of faith, learning, and service, among other ways, through the establishment of a Center for Faculty Development. Undergraduate majors and graduate programs grew to include doctoral programs in education, nursing, pharmacy, and theology. The annual non-duplicating headcount increased from 2,183 (in 1996) to more than 5,300 (in 2012). Nine new buildings were constructed and a campaign for a new library was begun. In addition, the university achieved top tier recognition in U. S. News and World Report, Princeton Review, and other important listings, and the Chronicle of Higher Education named Union one of the Great Places to Work in the United States.

United and Grounded - 2014-Present

In June 2014, Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver became Union's sixteenth president. Coming from a distinguished career at Baylor University and a five-year presidency at East Texas Baptist University, Dr. Oliver has demonstrated a firm commitment to lead Union University to inhabit her mission and core-values.

The Logos — Union's three-story, 54,000-square foot library was dedicated on November 6, 2015. A new strategic plan, United in Spirit. Grounded in Truth., 2016-2020, was adopted by the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2015. Union also in 2015 launched the EDGE program to provide educational opportunities and job skills training for youth adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2017, an academic reorganization took place that created two new schools: the School of Social Work and the School of Adult and Professional Studies. In 2018, the university launched its Writing Center, a result of the Quality Enhancement Plan that Union was required to produce as part of its reaffirmation of accreditation.

Union approved a campus master plan in 2019 that calls for new buildings and an extension of the university's Great Lawn all the way to Highway 45 Bypass over the next 20 years.

Dr. Oliver leads with energy and a Christ-centered optimism about the future.

Affiliation and Support

Union University holds its charter in affiliation with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The trustees, not to exceed thirty-six in number, are elected by the Convention and have ultimate responsibility for the University.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention supports Union University through allocations of funds which are received through the Cooperative Program.