Eddie Collins

 Eddie Collins

On Oct. 2, 1972, Eddie Collins gazed out his office window at the white lime rock parking lot below and thought, "Boy, if we could ever fill that up, then we'd really be a university." Of course, parking lots at the University of North Florida have expanded three or four times since then to accommodate the increasing number of students, he notes with a shake of his head.


Collins remembers it as a rainy, humid day with students wading through the unpaved parking lot to campus-wide snags and defects, including a library where the air conditioning wasn't working. Yet, in spite of the obstacles, spirits were high. "There was a good feeling," Collins recalled. "The students were quite excited." The opening of a state university, serving upper level students, was cause for excitement, he added.


"Many people had gone to junior college and couldn't go any further, either because they needed to stay in the area or they weren't able to afford private college," he explained, adding that in most cases, the students were older than the teachers. "It was a little hard being part of such a young faculty. You ran into a lot of, 'Don't tell me how it's done, I've been doing this for 30 years.' We couldn't refer to our experience because we had experience sitting there before us."


Collins was a graduate assistant at Clark College in Atlanta (now Clark/Atlanta University) when his friend, Dr. Carol Sims, accepted the chair of the Department of Sociology at the newly-forming UNF. "He asked me to come and I felt very good about it," he remembered. "It was neat to be at a university at its inception and have input into shaping the foundation." Time's predictable toll on the young idealism so abundant in the beginning has caused some changes, he added. "We were motivated to create the ideal university setting, one that was certainly not as rigidly defined as a traditional campus," he noted. "I think we did create it, for the most part, although one can always find room to be critical. As we got older, we got more conservative. We are now a quite established, traditional university."


Over the years, UNF's emphasis on teaching over research continued to meet Collins' needs. "I always wanted to teach. I was a poor country boy in North Carolina and the most exciting people I knew were teachers," he said. "I stayed here primarily because if I wanted to teach, this was as good a place as any."


Of course, Collins has done more than just teach. In 1976, he was awarded a Board of Regents minority development fellowship to complete his doctorate at the University of Florida. He subsequently instituted a model of educational theory in the Duval County secondary and primary schools developed by one of his Gainesville professors. And Collins has been actively involved in his community, serving on the boards of the Campfire Girls, Association for Retarded Citizens, and American Cancer Society.


Universities must be as active in the community as individuals, Collins feels. "One of the measures of a university is how well it impacts on the community around it," he said. "Knowledge that never leaves the school is not very helpful."


UNF scores high on this measure, he added. "We have become involved in community objectives," Collins noted. "We helped institutions to provide new and better services for their client populations, helped government agencies, public and private education, business and industry, arts and culture."

The next 25 years should follow a similar path, he added. "I would like UNF to continue to develop as an excellent university for undergraduate teaching, along with excellent programs at the graduate level," Collins said. "But I hope it doesn't become a place where research and graduate programs take priority over teaching and undergraduate programs. It's going to be pushed in that direction for prestige and research dollars, but we need to have a balance of all these things. UNF built its reputation on being a student-friendly undergraduate university with good undergraduate teachers."