The history of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is a visionary one built on support for providing higher education opportunities in Southwest Florida. Area citizens began the initiative to bring a state university to this part of Florida, and their early requests were quickly supported by elected officials at the local and state levels.
The former Florida Board of Regents formally recommended in January 1991 the development of Florida’s tenth state university to be located in Southwest Florida, and, in May 1991, then Governor Lawton Chiles signed the legislation authorizing the new university. Southwest Florida’s support for a university was never more evident than during the next year, when private landowners offered more than 20 gift sites for the university campus. In early 1992, the Board of Regents selected the site offered by Ben Hill Griffin III and Alico, Inc. of 760 acres of land located just east of Interstate 75 between Alico and Corkscrew Roads.
Roy McTarnaghan was named founding university president in April 1993. Initial staff was hired that summer, and the university’s academic and campus planning began in earnest. Plans for the first phase of campus construction were unveiled in February 1994, and shortly thereafter, the Florida Legislature named the institution as “Florida Gulf Coast University.” The vision for the university was one that would address emerging higher education needs for the 21st century, including the use of technology in the learning/teaching process and multi-year contracts as an alternative to faculty tenure. The Board of Regents approved an agreement in May 1995 with the United Faculty of Florida allowing FGCU to offer a contract system for faculty.
Campus groundbreaking was held on November 28, 1995, with more than 600 people participating in the celebratory event for Southwest Florida. With aggressive academic program and campus development schedules slated to culminate in an opening day of August 25, 1997, the early staff and faculty were busy meeting deadlines every month. Inaugural degree programs were approved by the Board of Regents in March 1996. The FGCU Foundation, a private fundraising arm of the university, gained extraordinary financial support for an institution that at the time could only be seen on a drawing board. Faculty members throughout the country were attracted to FGCU for the opportunity to offer higher education in new and innovative ways.
The first FGCU student, Mariana Coto, was admitted in January 1997, and she participated in the historic ribbon cutting on the university’s August 25, 1997 opening day. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) awarded FGCU accreditation candidacy later that year, and a comprehensive self-study was launched. The first commencement was held in May 1998, with 81 FGCU graduates. In August 1998, the first phase of student housing opened. In September 1998, Founding President McTarnaghan announced his intention to retire as President on May 1, 1999.
FGCU’s second commencement ceremony, held May 1999, marked the last official act of the founding president. The Board of Regents launched a national search for FGCU’s second president held during the spring and summer, and the university received official notification in June 1999 that it had achieved, in record time, accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
In July 1999, the Board of Regents named William C. Merwin as FGCU’s second president. President Merwin arrived on campus for his first day on September 16, 1999. He initiated a highly participatory strategic planning process for students, faculty, and staff to carry the young institution to its next stage of development.
The Florida Legislature established governing boards of trustees for state universities in 2001, and 13 members were appointed to the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees. This governing board continues to provide leadership that is strategic, forward focused, community based, and responsive to the region and state.
In January 2007, FGCU President Bill Merwin retired, and Dean of the Lutgert College of Business Richard Pegnetter was named Interim President by the FGCU Board of Trustees. A highly competitive national search for FGCU’s third president was launched.
On the university’s 10th anniversary of its opening day - August 25, 2007 - the FGCU Board of Trustees selected Wilson G. Bradshaw to serve as the institution’s third president. President Bradshaw is leading FGCU through its second decade of development and service as a comprehensive university offering access to quality higher education in Southwest Florida.
As FGCU moves forward, student enrollment remains robust; the campus continues to advance with new buildings and facilities, including our popular student housing; new undergraduate and graduate degree programs are being added; our NCAA Division I athletics program continues to soar as an emerging powerhouse; the FGCU Foundation’s private fundraising continues to be successful, and the future for Florida Gulf Coast University is bright.