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The Atlanta University Center began as a voluntary consortium of six, independent institutions of higher learning to cooperatively achieve cost savings and improvement of services. Together they formed the worlds’ largest enterprise of private, black institutions with a combined enrollment of more than 8,000 students.

The Early Years:
The roots of this unique, effort go back decades. In 1897, Spelman faculty, students, and alumni participated in the second “Annual Conference for the Study of Negro Problems” sponsored by Atlanta University. Its president, Horace M. Bumstead, stated the need for a “systematic and thorough investigation of the conditions of living among the Negro population.” In that year W.E.B DuBois came to Atlanta University from Pennsylvania – after studies at Fisk, Berlin and Harvard – and directed these annual sessions for 13 years. The substance and productivity of the annual conferences prompted Wallace Buttrick of the General Education Board to report that Atlanta University was the only institution in the world engaged in “a systematic study of the Negro…and putting the result in a form available for scholars of the world.” Thus the tone was set for education in the Atlanta University Center to be engaged in service to the cause of improving the human condition. That theme and that concern have remained constant during the ensuing years.

Dr. John Hope, the President of Morehouse College, predicted in 1906 that Atlanta University would in time become a graduate school, conducting its work under some form of agreement with Spelman and Morehouse. In 1906, Mrs. John Hope organized the Neighborhood Union, later to be the core of Atlanta University’s School of Social Work.

In 1912, Atlanta University joined with Clark, Morehouse and Morris Brown Colleges and with Gammon Theological Seminary to organize the Atlanta Federation of Schools for the Improvement of Negro Country Life. In 1913, students of Atlanta University and Morehouse worked together on a Phelps-Stokes sponsored study of crime in the City of Atlanta.

In 1914 Morehouse and Atlanta University offered the first joint course, in Business Law and Ethics, alternating classes between the two campuses. Cooperation gained momentum in the 1920’s. Professor Edward A. Jones’ history of Morehouse, A Candle in the Dark, relates that up to the time Spelman became a college; the young ladies who aspired a baccalaureate degree took classes at Morehouse and received their diplomas from Spelman. In the fall of 1927, Spelman and Morehouse jointly appointed Kemper Harreld, who subsequently chaired the two colleges’ music departments for 27 years. Morehouse, Spelman, and Atlanta University operated the summer school series of college-level courses together.

During the 1928-29 academic year three faculty members held joint appointments at Spelman and Morehouse, and all upper-level courses were open to students of both colleges. Spelman-Morehouse concerts began their long tradition that year, and Baccalaureate Sunday was celebrated at a combined service in June, 1928.

That same month the Atlanta University board named a committee to confer with Spelman and Morehouse trustees on further cooperative measures that could result in savings of expenditures for all three institutions. Their formal discussion of affiliation began in February, 1929.

Within a short period of time the “Contract of Affiliation” was developed and signed by President Adams of Atlanta University, President Hope of Morehouse, and President Read of Spelman on April 1, 1929.

Atlanta University agreed to concentrate its energies on graduate and professional education. Morehouse and Spelman would continue to be undergraduate colleges.

The AUC Gains Momentum:
By 1929-30, students from Clark College and Morris Brown College, then located elsewhere in Atlanta, began attending upper-level courses at Morehouse and Spelman. Atlanta University awarded its first master’s degree in the spring of 1931, the year that also saw the beginning of major land acquisitions in the section of southwest Atlanta where the AUC is now located. These acquisitions enabled Morris Brown to move to land made available to it by Atlanta University in 1932, and later, for Clark College to move from its campus in south Atlanta and join the complex in 1941.

The first structures built to serve the affiliated schools were the Trevor Arnett Library, dedicated in 1931; Harkness Hall, shared by the administrative staffs of Atlanta University and Morehouse College from 1933 to 1978, and a central power plant built in 1937.

Academic cooperation increased throughout the 1930’s. Students and faculty of Atlanta University, Spelman, and Morehouse presented joint summer theater productions on the Spelman campus. The nursery school, conducted by Spelman as part of its teacher education program, provided practice-teaching opportunities for Atlanta University graduate students as well.

By what was termed a “gentlemen’s agreement,” the name Atlanta University Center was given to the affiliation in 1942.

In 1958 the affiliation was further broadened to include the newly-created Interdenominational Theological Center, a cooperative venture by Gammon Theological Seminary (United Methodist), Morehouse School of Religion (Baptist), Turner Theological Seminary (African Methodist Episcopal) and Phillips School of Theology (Christian Methodist Episcopal). Gammon, Morehouse and Turner had been historically linked to Clark, Morehouse and Morris Brown Colleges, respectively. Membership in I.T.C. has since been increased by entrance of two additional institutions: Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary (Church of God in Christ) and Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary (United Presbyterian).

The State of Georgia issued a charter to the Atlanta University Center Corporation in 1964, authorizing the joint operation of academic and managerial enterprises and the receipt of monies on behalf of the member institutions. Formal recognition and encouragement were given to what became, over the years, a well-established set of mutually advantageous procedures and practices.

Dr. Prince E. Wilson from Central State University in Ohio was called to become the Executive Secretary of the Atlanta University Center. Dr. Wilson was no stranger to the Center, having previously held the position of professor and the Dean of Faculty at Morris Brown College. Under his management, and that of the presidents, consortia activities began to accelerate. Beginning with an initial budget of $50,000 and one project in 1966, the Center grew to have a $2.3 million budget and 22 on-going projects by 1973. Major gifts from the Olin Corporation led to the creation of the AUC Career Planning and Placement Service and the Dual Degree Program in Engineering, developed in cooperation with Georgia Institute of Technology.

During the same period the presidents of the member institutions engaged in large-scale fund-raising and building campaigns, demanded by the steady increase in enrollment and educational expenses. Their predecessors – Dr. Rufus E. Clement (A.U.), Dr. Harry Richardson (I.T.C.), Dr. James P. Brawley (Clark), Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (Morehouse), Dr. Frank Cunningham (Morris Brown) – had, through difficult years marked by financial hardship and social upheaval, brought the schools into closer alliance. Now it fell upon men like Dr. Thomas D. Jarrett, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, Dr. Vivian W. Henderson, Dr. Hugh M. Gloster, Dr. John A. Middleton and Dr. Manley to carry this movement forward without sacrificing the integrity and autonomy of the individual institutions.

By 1972, a combination of factors made the Center institutions require additional terms of affiliation. Increased enrollments, growing payrolls, expanded physical plants, and economic pressures were demanding resource sharing and coordinated planning. Additional programmatic growth and funding could be achieved if other formal procedures were established. With these considerations in mind, the member institutions called upon their combined experience of more than 520 years in education to create a plan that would work.

Plan of Reorganization:
The six presidents and the executive secretary accepted the prime responsibility of developing a statement of purpose acknowledging benefits that could accrue to more centrally-coordinated operations. The “Plan of Reorganization,” as the final document was called, strengthened the Center without blurring the autonomy of the separate institutions.

Organizationally, the Plan called for a Board of Trustees, from the member institutions and non-institutional representatives. Administrative responsibility was delegated by the Board to a Chancellor, who would coordinate programs, and provide leadership in cooperative planning.

The Center staff was to coordinate with counterparts at the member institutions through a system of Center-wide councils meeting on a regular basis. The primary council was the Administrative Council, composed of the six presidents and the Chancellor, all of whom also served as ex officio, non-voting members of the Board.

One of the most important features in the Plan of Reorganization was its flexible approach to the coordination of effort. While it encouraged cooperative planning, it did not rigidly require that all six institutions agree upon a common course of action at all levels. It allowed for two or more institutions to develop their own patterns of linkage to achieve better performance and/or efficiency.

Lisle C. Carter, Jr., a former assistant of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and vice president of Cornell University, became the first Chancellor in 1973. Under his leadership the Center assumed greater responsibility for Center-wide administrative coordination, established the Atlanta Fellows and Interns Program, and launched a successful multi-million dollar campaign for a new joint library (Robert W. Woodruff Library).

Approaching the millennium:
The function of the Atlanta University Center is not a mechanism to bring about the merger of the institutions. Each college is a separate entity. Atlanta University Center is the creation of the member institutions. Recognizing the need for an instrument to encourage coordination of effort and maximum sharing of resources, they brought it into existence and delegated to it the responsibility of facilitating cooperation.

Administrative and academic coordination is firmly established within the Atlanta University Center. Frequent assessments are made to provide quality education and experiences that are responsive to the needs of students and a changing society.

The 1980’s was a time for expansion. A centralized library named in honor of the Atlanta philanthropist and former Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company was constructed in 1982. The Robert W. Woodruff Library located in the heart of the Atlanta University Center, is a modern information and research center designed to effectively meet the needs of the member institutions.

In 1983, Morehouse School of Medicine joined the AUC Consortium. It is one of four medical schools located in Georgia and focuses on primary healthcare needs of the underserved.

To enhance the area of science and research, the Atlanta University Center dedicated the newly constructed Dolphus E. Milligan Science Research Institute on March 9, 1985. The building was named after a noted black research scientist.

In May of 1988, Clark College and Atlanta University released a document entitled “Proposed Combination of Clark College and Atlanta University, “which outlined plans for the creation of a new school named Clark Atlanta University through the consolidation of Clark College, a four-year undergraduate institution offering Bachelor’s degrees, and Atlanta University, a graduate and professional school offering Master’s and Doctoral degrees. July 1, 1988 was the effective date of the merger with a target date of July 1, 1989 to consolidate all academic programs.

Atlanta was selected in September 1990 to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. With this news the AUC as well as all of Atlanta braced for change. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) included the Atlanta University Center in planning venues and activities pertaining to colleges and universities. Facilities built and projects completed during this time include two stadiums, parking deck, tennis court, medical building, theology center, gymnasium, pedestrian corridor, and a statue entitled “Tree Mother”. The Olympics had a positive economic impact on the Atlanta University Center.

By the year 2000, a study of the Robert W. Woodruff Library facility was underway. Attention was given to strengthen the library’s resources, management, and governance structure. The focus was on ways to improve student services, upgrade technology, equipment, and enhance the infrastructure. Upon completion of the comprehensive study, the library became a separate entity in 2003. Also during this period the presidential leadership at Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College were transitioning.

In 2004, the business operating as AUC, Inc. was dissolved and a new corporation was formed. The centralized management and operation of the Atlanta University Center is now administered through a new corporation known as the AUC Consortium, Inc. Marilyn Jackson, the first woman Executive Director, was hired by the Council of Presidents as the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation to manage joint ventures and shared resources. The member institutions are; Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College. Principal Officers from each institution serve on the center-wide councils. The councils meet regularly with the Executive Director to plan, develop, recommend, and evaluate shared resources.

The Atlanta University Center has moved through a series of governing structures and administrative organizations to end up on a solid platform. It is a model to be used as a template for others seeking to manage joint programs.

  1. Group of students (undated). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  2. Class of 1894. Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  3. Signing of the Contract of Affiliation (April 1, 1929). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  4. Homecoming (1928). Clark College Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  5. Laying cornerstone at Trevor Arnett Library (1931). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  6. Council of Presidents Meeting (1947). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  7. AUC Nursery children during lunch period (undated). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  8. Commencement (1945). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  9. Unidentified student reading (undated). Atlanta University Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections
  10. Miss Clark and Court 1972-1973. Clark College Photograph Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Archives & Special Collections

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