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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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Adrian Van Vliet, seated on the right, with early students (1858-1862) of the "Van Vliet School" which became the University of Dubuque. Photo courtesy: University of Dubuque
Dubuque College and Seminary became the University of Dubuque
UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. One of Dubuque's TRI-COLLEGES, the University of Dubuque was the first effort of the Presbyterian church to bring education to Iowa residents. It was one of the earliest collegiate enterprises in the state ranking sixth in order of organization. The school was also among the first to bring a "rational method" of education for the great number of foreign immigrants coming to this country. (1) In 1852 the German Theological College and Seminary, first of its kind west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, was founded by Rev. Adrian VAN VLIET, a German Presbyterian minister, as a preparatory school for Presbyterian ministers. In 2015 the University of Dubuque included the undergraduate college, the graduate school, and the theological seminary.
Image courtesy: Meghann Toohey: Serials, Digital Management and Archives Assistant, University of Dubuque
Image courtesy: Meghann Toohey: Serials, Digital Management and Archives Assistant, University of Dubuque

Van Vliet began the school believing that hundreds of German immigrant farmers and miners coming to the region would eventually establish homes and need ministers for their churches. He trained Jacob and A. Kolb for the ministry in the basement of his church at 17th and Iowa STREETS, later the site of Our Lady of Lourdes Convalescent Home. (2) Van Vliet's school was unique by modern standards. He provided the students with board, room, and books without charge. As the number of students gradually climbed to eighteen, Van Vliet saw that his annual salary of $400 would no longer cover expenses. At this point, he began charging two dollars per week for board and room and purchased two buildings near the church to be used as dormitories and a kitchen. Impressed by his work, friends contributed $150.00 for the school's support. (3) Rev. G. Moery, a former student, was selected as an assistant. (4)

For its first twelve years, the school was the private concern of Van Vliet. In the spring of 1864, however, its supervision came under the control of the Presbytery of Dubuque. The school was then given its first formal name, "The German Theological School of the Northwest."

The Presbyterian Church of the United States officially assumed control of the school in 1870. (5) One year later Reverend Jacob Conzett was chosen as Van Vliet's successor. The school at this time had eighteen students. Still in need of more space, the institution was transferred to the former Episcopal Seminary, a brick building on corner of 17th and Iowa, that had been purchased for $10,000. (6) Under the leadership of Dr. Conzett, the school cleared itself of all financial debt and developed an invested capital of over $50,000. The enrollment increased to twenty-four students taught by three full-time and two part-time professors. The course of study took seven years for completion. (7) This was to be the home of the school from 1872 for the next thirty-five years.

Dr. Cornelius M. STEFFENS, appointed financial secretary in 1902 and president 1908, guided the school into expanding its curriculum. In 1902 there were four teachers and twenty-three students and the financial assets totaled $19,000. (8) From a school offering a limited number of theological studies, a liberal arts college and academy were established by 1905. College degrees were first granted in 1906.

The University of Dubuque (circa 1938) long before its tremendous building campaign. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The college was moved to its present location on University Avenue in 1907. Among the first buildings constructed was McCormick Gymnasium. On April 25, 1914 an estimated three hundred persons including college students, faculty, ministers and citizens assembled at the site where construction on the $60,000 building would take place. The funds raised for the building came through the efforts of President Steffens and the generosity of Mrs. Nellie F. McCormick, widow of the Cyrus McCormick, the famed agricultural implement manufacturer of Chicago. (9) Other buildings constructed included Steffens Hall and Van Vliet Hall. The college placed special emphasis on teaching principles of Christianity and democracy to the hundreds of students it accepted. In 1911 the college became coeducational.

The college became known as the German Presbyterian Theological School or the Dubuque Theological German College and Seminary. In 1916, in response to the war, the word "German" was dropped from the name of the school, and the name Dubuque College was adopted. Other reactions to the war included the use of more English in the classroom and a change in the title of the academic magazine from Der Seminarist to The Dubuque Student.

The institution's name became an issue with what became LORAS COLLEGE in 1911. The legal right to use the name Dubuque College, claimed by both institutions, ended up in the local courts. In 1918 the district court gave the Dubuque College name to the institution on 14th Street (now Loras College.) (10) The case was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court which remanded the case back to the local court for the admission of additional testimony. Negotiations between representatives of both schools reached a conclusion which was signed on March 23, 1920 prior to the court's decision. (11)

The college officially became the University of Dubuque in 1920, as a result of the agreement, and was accredited by the Iowa Department of Education and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools by 1923. (12)

In 1923 when the University of Dubuque was eighty-one years old, the school had an endowment exceeding $700,000. The university campus included thirty-six acres of which twenty were used for athletics. There were six university buildings excluding the heating plant. The four-story administrative building housed administrative officers, four classrooms, and laboratories. The chapel was located behind the administrative building. Severance Hall, a gift of Louis H. Severance of Cleveland, Ohio accommodated eighty-seven women, a central reception rooms, and three additional rooms. McCormick Gymnasium contained offices of professors of physical education, trophy room, gymnasium and gallery, locker rooms, showers, and a swimming pool. Peters Commons, a gift of Frank H. Peters of St. Louis, contained the living quarters of the matron, the department of music, and a dining hall that could be used as a large auditorium. Van Vliet Divinity Hall, home of the seminary, contained thirty rooms, six classrooms, dean's office, seminary library and a chapel. The university library contained 16,000 volumes exclusive of periodicals. (13)

In 1965 three seminaries in Dubuque – University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS), Wartburg Theological Seminary (then of the American Lutheran Church), and Aquinas Institute of Theology (Roman Catholic) formed an unprecedented threefold-seminary consortium. UDTS moved its operations to the AQUINAS INSTITUTE in Dubuque, sharing classroom, library, and living arrangements with Dominican seminarians and faculty. This lasted until 1981, when the Dominicans moved to St. Louis, Missouri. UDTS returned to the University of Dubuque campus. In 2014 the Schools of Theology in Dubuque consortium allows cross-registration to both Wartburg and Dubuque Seminary student bodies. (14)

Since 1998, the seminary offered ruling elders distance education to provide leadership for smaller congregations. The seminary also provided continuing education for teaching elders in distance format. (15)

Beginning in 2007, Dubuque Seminary became the first seminary of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to offer a Master of Divinity distance education program. This accredited distance degree program allowed those interested to take two-thirds of the courses online over a four-year period. (16)

The curriculum and faculty for the online M.Div. are the same as those in our residential program. Interaction with instructors and other students occurs through email and discussion boards. In 2011 UDTS started offering the Master of Arts in Missional Christianity in both distance and residential formats. (17)

Photo courtesy:Cathy's Treasurers,156 Main, Dubuque
The University of Dubuque (UD) was involved in physical activities as early as 1866. UD competed in its first men’s intercollegiate competition - a football game in 1907, but did not begin intercollegiate competition until 1909. (18) In 1925 the university gave up intercollegiate athletics blaming the commercialism of sports. University officials specifically opposed enrolling athletes by offering board and tuition. President Karl F. Wettstone also objected to the coaches' salaries, which he felt, were inflated in comparison with salaries given other department heads. College sports, however, returned to the university in 1928. UD women competed in its first intercollegiate competition—a volleyball game in 1974. A year later, UD added women’s golf and won their first women’s conference championship. Women’s basketball was officially added in 1976, but UD played the sport early in the 1900s competing in the Dubuque City League and against local club teams. (19) In 2015 the University supported 23 teams and numerous intramural sports in state-of-the-art facilities. (20) In May, 2015 the men's golf team won the IIAC golf team championship, its first in thirty-nine years. (21)
Homecoming pin.
China used at the university in 1944. Image courtesy: Katelyn Wolff.
Steffens Hall

The university's honorary rectorship program, begun in 1939 and considered unique in the United States, was actually an old European custom. Archibald MacLeish, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist and poet, received the thirteenth rectorship in 1977 and the first granted by the university since 1967.

In 1955 twelve acres of land lying between Chalmers Field and Highway 20 were purchased for the university by CARR, ADAMS AND COLLIER COMPANY, A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY, ROSHEK BROTHERS COMPANY, and David CASSAT. A new dormitory designed to house fifty ministerial students was also announced with construction that take place along Grace Street. (22)

In 1991 the University of Dubuque, with an annual budget and endowment each exceeding $10 million, could boast that 70 percent of its faculty had attained the highest degree possible in their fields. This was an increase from 23 percent in 1970.

Class size was maintained at between fifteen and twenty students with instruction being given by faculty members. The university accepted some students with low standardized test scores who showed potential. Remedial work was then provided. Retention of first semester freshmen students was increased 9 percent when the university instituted the Freshman Seminar, a two-credit course dealing with topics including money management and cultural diversity.

Athletic facilities received more than $2 million for expansion and renovation. The Stoltz Sports Center was constructed as an addition to McCormick Gymnasium. The gymnasium, built in 1914, was renovated to included new racquetball courts, indoor pool, Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame, and a multi-purpose playing court.

It was announced in 1991 that on May 8th the school's Reserved Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) would be de-activated. Along with a similar program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the UD program, with 12 students, was among the nation's fifty smallest. (23)

The University of Dubuque was one of the first colleges in the area to offer an international studies major. In 1991 international students made up 20 percent of the freshman class. An estimated 15 percent of all students at the university came from twenty-nine countries. An additional 8 percent of the student body came from domestic minority groups. Extension programs offered by the university for working nurses seeking an MBA degree were offered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

The goal of the university administration was to assure that every faculty member had overseas educational experiences. This success was reflected by the fact that 50 percent of the university's instructors and 100 percent of the seminary's instructors participated in travel experiences outside the United States.

The faculty of the University of Dubuque gained a unique status in the 1970s by being the first in a private institution of higher education west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER to request collective bargaining. The "Contractual Agreement Between the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Dubuque" was signed on June 4, 1974. Articles of the agreement included: recognition, board rights, association rights, student rights and freedom, academic freedom, faculty rights and responsibilities, working conditions, academic ranks, personnel policies, promotion, tenure, dismissals, termination and resignations, personnel files, grievance and arbitration, and salary and fringe benefits. Appendixes included the joint statement on rights and freedoms of students and the salary schedule. This agreement remained in effect until August 31, 1975. (24)

In December 1983 the question of whether the faculty would retain collective bargaining rights went before a hearing of the National Labor Relations Board. The hearing resulted from a petition University of Dubuque administrators filed in November with the NLRB regional office in Peoria, Illinois. The non-union administrators asked the board to determine whether university faculty fell under a Supreme Court ruling that banned faculty at a private college from bargaining collectively (1980 Yeshiva decision). The Supreme Court had ruled that faculty at Yeshiva University, a private four-year college in New York were managerial employees that therefore not subject to the NLRB. University of Dubuque administrators argued that faculty exercised excessive managerial rights. The faculty at the time was bargaining as the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the Iowa State Education Association. (25) The action of the administration was seen as "union-busting" and picketing was carried out by members of the college faculty and teachers of the DUBUQUE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, also an affiliate of the Iowa State Education Association. (26) The National Labor Relations Board eventually ruled against the faculty which lost its collective bargaining rights. (27)

In cooperation with CLARKE COLLEGE and LORAS COLLEGE, the University of Dubuque participated in the Dubuque Tri-College Teacher Education Program in 1986. Students earned a degree from one school, although they are able to take classes on all three campuses. Bachelors and master's degrees were offered.

The University of Dubuque seminary trained ministers for all Protestant denominations, but principally for the United Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Degrees offered include the Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Religion. A program for church administrators links a Master of Divinity degree with an MBA from the College of Liberal Arts. Cooperative programs operate with WARTBURG THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY. The Rural Ministry Program introduces students to life in rural America by requiring seminary students to participate in activities that take them into small towns much like they will probably serve in their first ministry. The university's Native American Program conducts workshops on reservations of Native Americans around the United States and has offered scholarships that have been accepted by members of thirty-five tribes.

Unique programs offered by the University of Dubuque include SEED, the three-week Summer Exploration of the Environment program for gifted high school students. In 1991 students from twenty-two states participated in the program while earning college credit.

The university's aviation department enabling students to earn degrees in aviation management and flight operation ranked in the top 50 in the United States and the best in Iowa. (28) The program began in 1973 with five students and two airplanes. (29) By 1990 these numbers had grown to 117 students and 10 airplanes based at the DUBUQUE REGIONAL AIRPORT. Originally the program operated from a nearby farmhouse and had two small hangars. The university's new flight operations center containing flight instructor offices, flight simulator, classrooms, flight dispatch area and student lounge was dedicated in 1990 at the airport. A new hangar could house fifteen planes. In 1988 the university captured National Intercollegiate Flying Association Section Five honors. In 1990 the program placed 16th nationally when ranked against much larger programs. (30) In 2014 the university had a Pilot Cadet Program with SkyWest Airlines. The program allowed students to work closely with SkyWest pilots and gave them a clear path to become a SkyWest first officer after becoming flight instructors at the university. (31) The program has also graduated flight engineers for United Airlines; U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration pilots; and Marimba Chikonis, the airport director in Zimbabwe. (32)

In 1997 the sale of eight acres along Dodge Street to an out-of-town developer failed. Discussions, however, were being held with another developer. In 1996 the same land was to have been sold to Dial Realty Corporation of Omaha, Nebraska. Despite objections of from neighbors the property had been zoned for planned unit development by the city council in September, 1995. (33) The land was eventually developed by the university for student housing.

In 1997 the Tri-Colleges, University of Dubuque, CLARKE COLLEGE, and LORAS COLLEGE chose to end operating the Tri-College Education Department begun in 1986. Among the reasons for the change was different mission statements, governance, and salary structures. At the University of Dubuque, the new education department was the largest on the campus with 140 students in the program. Two additional teachers were added to the department and a third was expected to be hired in the summer. During the years of the Tri-College Department, the university had specialized in preparing special education teachers. After the break-up, the university found itself needing to develop programs for elementary and secondary education. Cooperation between the three school continued. If particular courses were not available on the campus of one school, they could be attended at either of the other two schools. A library system that linked all three campuses still existed and a shuttle service ran between all three campuses. (34)

Those attending the Dunlap Series have heard such distinguished speakers as economists Arthur Bums and John Kenneth Galbraith. A Speakers' Bureau, operated by the university, offered art programs, an international food festival and student speakers from dozens of countries.

The University of Dubuque (UD) commitment to service-members and veterans began during WORLD WAR II with the Navy’s V5/V12 programs, continuing to the present day with an Army ROTC Eagle Detachment, and a veteran support group for those studying on campus. Since 1999, the University encouraged Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) graduates living overseas to join our community. The University of Dubuque has been given a “Military Friendly” rating by GI Jobs magazine, is a Yellow Ribbon School, a Vietnam War Commemoration Partner, and a Homebase Iowa employer. The University also employs faculty and staff throughout the campus community, who are veterans of all military branches. (35)

In 2014 the University of Dubuque offered the following assistance, education benefits, and veteran programs to all active duty military, veterans, and their families: (36)

       A retired veteran is on-site, providing all student veterans one-on-one
       assistance to ensure they are receiving all of their entitled benefits.
       Serving our student veterans with one of the largest Veteran Centers in 
       the region (study rooms, computers, WIFI, media hub, gaming systems, 
       lounge, and kitchen)
       The University of Dubuque participates in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education
       Enhancement Program. The University of Dubuque currently contributes 
       $10,000 (one of the highest in the area) towards the Yellow Ribbon program. 
       The Veterans Administration matches that amount for a total of $20,000 
       towards tuition.
       Waive the college application fee for veterans relocating to the area
       DODDS Partnership and MCEI Grant (Military Child Education Initiative) 
       – $3,000
               ROTC Service (Contracted Cadets) – $6,000
               Army ROTC detachment
               Offers a reduced rate for LIFE (Accelerated Adult learning Program) 
               Federal Tuition Assistance rate.
               Credit for Military service through Veterans Joint Service Transcript
               Acceptance of CLEP/DANTES exams for college credit
               Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty (Chapter 30)
               Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606)
               Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)
               Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 35)
               Reserve Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 1607)
               Vocational Rehabilitation - Veterans with Disabilities (Chapter 31)

In 2015 the University of Dubuque, CLARKE UNIVERSITY, LORAS COLLEGE, and the Northeast Iowa Community College were named to the 2016 Military Friendly Schools list by Victory Media. The list designates the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools that do the most to support military service members, veterans, and their spouses as students and ensure their sucess on campus and after graduation. (37)

In the fall of 2015 a quintet of female University of Dubuque ROTC Cadet Rangers placed first among female teams from more than twenty-five other ROTC programs in Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kansas at Camp Dodge. Winning earned the team the opportunity to compete at the ROTC brigade level against forty-two other programs in a competition at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The female Rangers placed fourth in the competition at Fort McCoy. The competition included military competency tasks such as first aid, military weapons, navigation and a six-mile run in full combat gear. (38)



1. "Noted Speakers on Big Program," Telegraph Herald, May 28, 1922, p. 1

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Association, 1880, p. 580

5. "Noted Speakers..."

6. Oldt, Franklin T.

7. Ibid,

8. "Noted Speakers.."

9. "Everything Ready for Excavation," Telegraph Herald, April 25, 1914, p. 3

10. "Report Local School Heads in Agreement," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, March 19, 1920

11. "Compromise is Reached Tuesday at Conference," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, March 24, 1920, p. 1

12. "Academic Freedom and Tenure," American Association of University Professors, Online: http://www.aaup.org/report/academic-freedom-and-tenure-university-dubuque

13. "University of Dubuque is 81 Years Old; Has Endowment Funds Exceeding $700,000," Dubuque Telegraph Herald,

14. "Mission and Tradition," University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Online: http://udts.dbq.edu/aboutudts/missionandtradition/

15. Ibid.

16. "Distance Master's Registration Information for Summer and August/Fall Semesters," UDTSLearning.net Online: http://udtslearning.net/mod/page/view.php?id=2

17. "Mission and Tradition"

18. "Men's Athletics," University of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dbq.edu/athletics/mens/

19. "Women's Athletics." University of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dbq.edu/athletics/womens/

20. Ibid.

21. "May," Chronology 2014, Telegraph Herald, January 1, 2015, p. 10

22. "Announce Purchase of 12 Acres for UD Expansion," Telegraph Herald, March 2, 1955, p. 21

23. Hanson, Lyn. "UD's ROTC Unit to be De-Activated," Telegraph Herald, May 1, 1991, p. 3A

24. ERIC-Contractual Agreement Between the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Dubuque and the University of Dubuque. Dubuque Univ., IA. Online: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED104194

25. Goessl, Joan. "UD Faculty May Lose Collective Bargaining," Telegraph Herald, December 15, 1983, p. 3A

26. Lyon, Randolph. President of the Dubuque Education Association from 1982-1986

27. Interview with Ralph Scharnau, January, 2015

28. "Pilot Colleges," University of Dubuque, Online: http://pilot-colleges.com/university-of-dubuque

29. "UD Students Earn Wings, Education," Associated Press (Telegraph Herald), Nov. 5, 1990 p. 3

30. Ibid.

31. "Airline Agreements: University of Dubuque and SkyWest Airlines Pilot Cadet Program," University of Dubuque, Online: http://www.dbq.edu/academics/officeofacademicaffairs/academicdepartments/aviation/airlineagreements/

32. "UD Student Earn..."

33. McDermott, Brad. "UD Land Deal; 3rd Buyer Interested," Telegraph Herald, May 7, 1997, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970507&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

34. Krapfl, Mike. "Teacher Education Evolves Three Ways After Tri-Colleges' Split," Telegraph Herald, January 18, 1998, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980118&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

35. University of Dubuque, "Veterans," Online: https://www.dbq.edu/veterans/

36. Ibid.

37. "Clarke, Loras, NICC, UD, UW-P on Pro-Military List," Telegraph Herald, November 12, 2015, p. 3A

38. Reber, Craig D. "UD's Female ROTC in Competition," Telegraph Herald, December 14, 2015, p. 1