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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When David S. Dockery was elected as the 15th 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. Considerable progress has been made during this time.
In many respects, Union University is in the strongest position in its history.
Union's annual non-duplicating headcount has increased from 2,183 in 1996 to more than 5,300 in 2012. Union has recorded 15 consecutive years of enrollment increases.
The campus master plan established early in the Dockery administration has progressed with the construction or rebuilding of more than 20 residence halls. In addition, major campus building projects have been completed, including Miller Tower, Jennings Hall, Hammons Hall, the Fesmire athletic facilities, White Hall, the Carl Grant Events Center, the Bowld Student Commons and Providence Hall.
Beyond Jackson, Union has expanded with extension campuses in suburban Memphis (Germantown) and suburban Nashville (Hendersonville).
Union's efforts to develop faculty resources serve as a model for many other institutions. There is a strong commitment to faith and learning efforts, as well as to teaching, scholarship and research among Union faculty through the Center for Faculty Development.
SACS Level VI accreditation was achieved, and many discipline-specific accreditations have been added across the campus. Significant progress has been made in developing research opportunities for undergraduate students.
Undergraduate majors have been added in political science, physics, theology, digital media studies, church history, ethics, sports management, sports medicine and engineering. Graduate programs added include education (M.Ed., M.U.Ed., Ed.S., and Ed.D.), nursing (MSN and DNP with tracks in education, administration, nurse practitioner, and nurse anesthesia), intercultural studies (MAIS), Social Work (MSW), in theology and missions (MCS and D.Min.) and Pharmacy (Pharm.D.).
Union established the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership, the Charles Colson Chair for Faith and Culture, the Stephen Olford Chair of Expository Preaching, the Hammons Chair of Pre-Medical Study and the Baptist Memorial Health Care Chair of Pharmacy Practice.
The university's academic strengths have been recognized by a host of national publications, including First Things, which ranks Union among the top 12 Protestant universities in the country.
Giving to Union has increased significantly, including more than twenty of the largest financial commitments in the University's history.
The University launched and completed "Building a Future," a comprehensive, $110 million dollar capital campaign. It was the largest capital campaign in University history.
The highly successful annual Scholarship Banquet was initiated in 1997 and has raised about $5.5 million for student scholarships.
In 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education named Union University among its "Great Colleges to Work For." Union was one of only a few schools to score in 11 of 12 possible categories, placing it among the top 42 schools in the nation.
Union has initiated LIFE group programs, student retention programs, student mission involvement and formative programs for freshman students.