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Unlikely beginnings

In 1965, Florida Senator Robert M. Haverfield introduced Senate Bill 711, which instructed the state Board of Education and the Board of Regents (BOR) to begin planning for the development of a state university in Miami.

An abandoned airfield is an unusual place for the birth of a university. But in the summer of 1969, founding FIU president Chuck Perry gathered three leaders who would help him create his vision.

Butler Waugh, Donald McDowell and Nick Sileo joined the 31-year-old Perry at Tamiami Airport and set up shop in the former air traffic controllers’ tower. The tower had no phones, no drinkable water and no furniture. President Perry decided that the control tower should never be destroyed and so it remains standing today at the center of campus, as FIU's Ivory Tower.

From that single building on that abandoned airfield, FIU has grown to be one of the largest universities in the country. The spirit of entrepreneurship born on that summer day thrives at today’s FIU.

"FIU was far from your typical university."

The vision becomes reality

Our beginnings were unconventional; our opening day in 1972 continued that trend. With 5,667 students, it was the largest opening enrollment in U.S. collegiate history.

The typical student entering FIU that year was 25, attending school full-time and working full-time. Eighty percent of the student body had just graduated from Miami-Dade Community College. Forty-three percent were married. FIU was far from your typical university.

After seven years of leadership, President Perry left the university.

At the end of his tenure, there were more than 10,000 students attending classes and a campus with five major buildings.

The building years & FIU's leaders continue President Perry’s vision

In 1976, Harold Crosby became FIU's second president, agreeing to serve a three-year interim term. Under his leadership, the North Campus (now the Biscayne Bay Campus) opened in 1977. President Crosby was insistent that the “I” in FIU be highlighted, prompting the launch of new programs with an international focus and faculty recruitment from the Caribbean and Latin America. President Crosby's resignation in 1979 triggered the search for a permanent president.

FIU's third president came with an impressive pedigree; Gregory Wolfe was a former White House statesman and president of Portland State University.


Among Wolfe's achievements:

  • conversion of FIU from a two-year, upper-division school with limited graduate programs into a university with a lower division and doctoral programs 
  • first on-campus residence halls at North Campus, housing 550 students. A $10 million housing facility for 738 students opened at University Park (1985) 
  • ten-year, $170M “Southeast Florida Comprehensive University Presence Plan” (CUP) was designed to fund additional master’s and doctoral programs at FIU (1985) By the time President Wolfe retired in 1986, FIU had grown to more than 16,500 students, facilities were growing and the University was featured in the Top 200 Best Buys in College Education by The New York Times.

Celia Cruz

The Maidique years – growth and progress

In August 1986, the Board of Regents unanimously approved Modesto A. “Mitch” Maidique as FIU’s fourth president. The former Harvard Business School professor and high-tech entrepreneur had a clear vision and goals for the University.

Some of his major accomplishments:

  • enrollment increased from 16,400 to more than 34,000 
  • tremendous programmatic growth- more than 190 degree programs in 19 colleges and schools 
  • FIU admitted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society, the youngest member of the society and one of only five in the state of Florida (2000) 
  • FIU College of Law – the first public law school in South Florida – opened in 2002 
"Today we begin a new era..."

The next generation – President Rosenberg continues the legacy

On August 28, 2009, Florida International University’s fifth president, Mark B. Rosenberg, took the oath of office. Rosenberg is former chancellor of the State University System of Florida and the first FIU faculty member to ascend to the presidency of the university.

“Today we begin a new era that speaks to the times we are in,” said Rosenberg to thousands who gathered at the U.S. Century Bank Arena, on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus in West Miami-Dade County. “In this new era, we must put our students at the center of who we are, engage our community like never before and reinforce our partnerships with key institutions in South Florida.”

These words, from Dr. Rosenberg’s installation speech, capture the essence of what will be the future of FIU:

We are here today to celebrate this magnificent institution.

We are here today because we care. We are here today because of our hungry heart for FlU.

We are here today because of our commitment to the life of the 21st century mind-our commitment to learning, to entrepreneurship, research, innovation, and to creativity.

We are here today because we know we can work better together to prevent and solve problems using the blessings of our knowledge and passion.

We are here today because there is more to be done. In this New Era, students will be at the center, research and creative activity will be the driver, engagement and partnerships will be the mode._

Read the full biography of Dr. Rosenberg.

Want to know more about FIU’s past presidents? Get the full story.

Learn more about FIU's explosive growth by watching the video below