ASU Name Change


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In 1958, Arizonans young and old fought for the passing of Proposition 200, a measure that turned Tempe's rapidly growing Arizona State College into a full-fledged university. Led by college President Grady Gammage, supporters rallied, signed petitions, and staged protests despite major opposition from many community leaders.


Don Dotts: On election night, a lot of us were gathered in the ballroom of the MU, in fact, students were gathered outside because there wasn't space for all the students on election night to hear the results.

Narrator: Don Dotts vividly remembers the night when Arizona State College officially became a university. It was an accomplishment that had taken the tireless efforts of students, staff, and community supporters. And while the event paved the way for ASU's future, it also marked the end of an era.

Don Dotts: Tempe was a small community. Arizona State College at Tempe was a small campus, relatively speaking. I was a student from fall of '53 until the summer of '57. And there were a lot of good things about the smallness of the campus then. We knew almost everybody. I was editor of the State Press, so I had a good look at things in my senior year, and it was just a very exciting time to be here.

Narrator: During its history, ASU has had several different identities. Founded in1885 as the territorial normal school, its original purpose was to train teachers. In 1945, it was renamed Arizona State College, and by the mid-'50s, unbeknownst to many, it was in fact, if not in name, a university. Ron Leeds was an ASC sophomore in 1955. While preparing a term paper on the history of the college, he was unable to find it listed in any official references.

Ron Leeds: So I went over to Matthews Library. I thought, "That’s interesting. We are not listed in any of the North Central Catalogs." I could find nothing about Arizona State College. I went back to the professor and I said, "You won't believe it, but our library has no information."

Narrator: Leeds continued his research, and it was discovered that ASC, which had multiple colleges and offered liberal arts degrees, met the criteria for university status. Little did he know that his term paper entitled "When is a hot dog a hamburger?" would help to spark a landmark issue.

Ron Leeds: I went to Dean Shofstall, Dean of men students, and he is the one that encouraged me, "If we're really not a college and we're a university, why don't you work on that?"

Narrator: Leeds, along with other students, began to generate enthusiasm, and the name-change effort steadily gained support not only on the ASC campus but in the surrounding community as well.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Well, I think it was critical to students, who felt as though they were getting a university education, and they wanted a university degree. I think it was critical to civic leaders in Phoenix who realized that Phoenix was the big city in Arizona, and you couldn't have a big city without a university in it.

Narrator: The '50s was a time of dramatic growth and change in the Valley of the Sun. The area was becoming a major economic force and center for technology development, and as the valley grew, the need for a second university became apparent. But there proved to be considerable resistance to the idea. This came primarily from supporters of what was then the only state university, the University of Arizona in Tucson, and much to the consternation of longtime ASC President Grady Gammage.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Certainly the attitude in my house and in most of Phoenix was what's the problem? This is progress. This is an institution that has grown up. It's time to recognize this. But there was a very strong belief on the part of people that this would mean more taxes, more government, more demands on the state legislature to fund a larger institution. But it was -- in large measure, the whole thing was a turf battle. The U of A had been the historic institution, so the real, I think, undercurrent was an emotional one. It was -- these were U of A people who didn't want a rival institution in Phoenix.

Narrator: As the name-change movement continued to gain momentum, there was hope that state legislators would act in favor of the change, but this was not to be the case.

Ron Leeds: There had been various proposals to change the name. There was a proposal in the state legislature to change the name, and there was a brief compromise that would've named it Tempe University, which the students went nuts over that. They hated that idea. They wanted Arizona State University.

Narrator: With the failure of the lawmakers' efforts, name-change supporters refocused their energies and launched a petition drive. They needed 29,000 signatures to put a proposition on the 1958 November ballot.

Don Dotts: The students got petitions, they went back to their hometowns on weekends and got signatures. The Alumni Association had petitions; we sent them out to every county. Petitions were -- were pushed by graduates, by students, by faculty and staff, and we got more than the signatures that we needed and we got it on the ballot in really good order.

Narrator: The name-change campaign shifted gears, and a grassroots effort to pass the measure quickly gained momentum.

Don Dotts: The alumni really worked hard. We even had an alumnus with an airplane who repainted under the wings "Vote Yes 200, ASU." On the wings! And he'd fly it over public events and downtown areas. It was such an exciting time, but I want to emphasize, too, that the students were so actively involved, they went to their hometowns and they just canvassed their neighbors and spread the word. Their parents got involved, and also the faculty and staff. It was just the entire ASU community that got really involved.

Narrator: Gammage and his wife Katherine crisscrossed the state in an effort to generate support. Also actively involved was the young football Coach Frank Kush.

Frank Kush: We went on a tour all through the state for luncheons, dinners, et cetera, speaking and get the people to vote ‘Yes” for Proposition 200. There's no question in my mind that Dr. Gammage and his staff just did a commendable job from the standpoint of promoting it and selling it to the people of Arizona.

Narrator: But opponents of the change also were active in support of their cause.

Frank Kush: Some of those rascals -- I suspect they were from down south -- burnt big block letters right in the center of the football field. And I’d say they were at least five yards in depth and ten yards in width, "No 200," you know. And I'm thinking to myself, we're playing a football game on there, it's being televised all over the place, and I think that was their purpose.

Narrator: Despite the opposition, the name-change supporters remained steadfast, and on election day, the ASC community turned out in force at the Memorial Union to anxiously await the results.

Don Dotts: There was a time when the press, the ticker tape of the press covering of the election showed that we were behind 2-1, and everyone was mortified. And there was a very disappointed atmosphere around the entire campus when this word came out. We found out later that evening that they were wrong, it was the reverse, that we were ahead 2-1. And in fact, we did win by a 2-1 margin. So it was an overwhelming victory.

Ron Leeds: I was a citizen then, able to vote, so watching the television and the news to see how our proposition was doing, that was the thrilling part. That's where my joy was, in seeing it start and actually seeing it happen.

Narrator: Today, Arizona State has become one of the leading universities in the country. It is an accomplishment that confirms the vision of those who came before and fought to make it a reality.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: ASU became a university because the students and the alumni took it into their own hands to make the institution that they were part of a university and then ultimately took it to the people to be voted on as a university. And that history is embedded in the way ASU thinks about itself. ASU is a place that invented itself and that is continuing to invent itself and reinvent itself.