A study of the University of North Florida’s history makes it clear that the growth of its academic programs and campus community can be traced to the presidency of Dr. Adam W. Herbert.
Herbert, president from 1989 to 1998, transformed the University in a decade of dynamic leadership by clearly defining its mission, enhancing academic quality, expanding facilities and building lasting connections to the community.
One of those community bridges, the construction of the University Center, enabled the University to host hundreds of community events every year, attracting thousands of residents, faculty and students. In recognition of that vision, the facility is being renamed the Adam W. Herbert University Center.
Herbert’s contributions to UNF and the greater Jacksonville community go well beyond the center. When he arrived at UNF, he described it as a “sleepy institution” that was operating in relative obscurity for its size and potential.
“The academic programs were good, but we were not attracting the number of full-time traditional students we needed to be recognized as Jacksonville’s major public university,” he said.
Herbert more clearly defined the University’s mission, a goal he emphasized in subsequent positions as chancellor of Florida’s State University System and as president of Indiana University.
“It was my view that UNF should be ranked among the best universities in the state with regard to undergraduate education and the profile of our freshman class,” he said.
He poured resources into developing the best undergraduate programs available anywhere in Florida. He also selected master’s programs that were responsive to the needs of the community. Then, he raised admission standards and emphasized recruitment of talented students from around the state, the nation and the world.
Academic programs, however, were only part of his challenge. The campus did not have the infrastructure to support the growth he envisioned.
Herbert was instrumental in acquiring land north of the original campus, now the site of athletic fields and additional parking, which became crucial to the development of the central core of campus.
He pushed for the extension of Kernan Boulevard, the building of the interchange with J. Turner Butler Boulevard and the all-important construction of Alumni Drive. The volume of traffic arriving on campus today would not be possible had UNF never developed that second access road.
Herbert was also a driving force behind the construction of the Brooks College of Health, Fine Arts Center, UNF Arena, Martin Garris Police Building, Child Development Research Center, Physical Plant building, new student housing, a parking garage, Hodges Stadium, new golf, tennis and softball facilities, as well as expansions/major renovations for the Coggin College of Business, J.J. Daniel Hall, the Robinson Center, Honors Hall, Harmon Baseball Stadium and Dottie Dorion Fitness Center.
Herbert’s legacy is also linked to the inroads he made with the Northeast Florida community.
He served as chair of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, co-chair of NFL Now, a successful community initiative to bring an NFL team to Jacksonville, and was on numerous non-profit community boards.
“It was absolutely essential that we demonstrate UNF was committed to fostering the long-term community development and economic growth of Jacksonville,” Herbert said.
Striving to establish closer ties with Duval County Public Schools, Herbert supported the assignment of student teachers in urban school settings, chaired the New Century Commission on Education, promoted the Florida Institute of Education and even brought high school commencement exercises to campus.
“Everything we did to build ties to the community enhanced our reputation and laid the foundation for increased community support,” he said. That philosophy later contributed to the success of the University’s first capital campaign, Access to Excellence.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Herbert’s legacy is the realization that the directions established during his presidency continue to be the directions the University is pursuing today.
Current President John A. Delaney, who was Jacksonville’s mayor when Herbert was president, closely watched the development of UNF. “Even when I was mayor, I admired Adam and the way he built the University while engaging the community,” Delaney said. “In many ways he was my role model for what we are accomplishing today.”