University of Mobile Located north of downtown Mobile, the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile was chartered as Mobile College on December 12, 1961, the first senior college to be chartered in Alabama in 57 years. On September 9, 1963, 181 students were admitted as the charter class, representing eight Alabama counties and five states. They were greeted by six administrators and 12 full-time faculty. Since then, the student body has grown from fewer than 200 students to more than 1,600, representing 24 nations, 30 states, and one U.S. territory. The faculty has grown from an even dozen to approximately 85 full-time and 75 adjunct or part-time instructors. More than 10,000 students have graduated from the University of Mobile, which has the motto “Changing Lives to Change the World.”
Alabama Baptist leaders had expressed interest in establishing a Baptist college in Mobile as early as 1946, when the Alabama Baptist State Convention considered combining Howard College (present-day Samford University) and Judson College. A proposal that same year to locate the combined school in Mobile was unsuccessful, but the concept of establishing a Baptist college in Mobile persisted. A group of Mobile Baptist leaders met in June 1952 at Central Baptist Church in Mobile to discuss establishing a Baptist junior college in Mobile, and the exploratory committee approved a motion to establish the school.
A committee from Mobile met with Alabama Baptist State Convention leaders in July 1957 and asked the convention to study the issue. At its annual meeting in 1959, the convention expressed its willingness to establish and operate a co-educational college, providing that certain conditions were met. Among those conditions was a fund-raising campaign in the Mobile area to collect University of Mobile gifts and pledges of $1.5 million. Railroad executive and chairman of the Mobile College Campaign Fund T. T. Martin oversaw a $2 million fundraising effort. The school would be named Mobile College, and it was proposed as an affiliate of either Howard College or Judson College to assure its accreditation. The school leadership appointed a steering committee and in 1960, following a report that the Mobile leadership had met the criteria established by the convention, the Alabama Baptist State Convention voted to move forward to establish Mobile College as a four-year institution separate from the other two Baptist colleges.
Sylacauga Baptist Church pastor William K. Weaver Jr., who had served on the convention study committee, was elected as founding president and assumed the post on April 1, 1961. Weaver and others continued to lay the groundwork, and the convention formally approved the establishment of Mobile College on November 14, 1961. Governor John Patterson granted state recognition less than a month later.
Weaver Hall at the University of Mobile Mobile businessman Jay P. Altmeyer donated 200 acres in north Mobile for the college site. Another 50 acres along Chickasabogue Creek was donated by Ray Loper of Loper Lumber Company, and other land given or purchased brought the total to 400 acres. (Later land purchases throughout the years would eventually bring the campus to 880 acres.) A 69,000-square-foot, three-story multi-purpose building was constructed and opened in 1963. The building, which cost $1.7 million to construct and furnish, included administrative offices, classrooms, library, science labs, auditorium, book store, and snack shop. That building still serves as the main administration building on campus and is now named William K. Weaver Hall, in honor of the founding president and current chancellor.
Weaver served as president until his retirement in 1984. During his tenure, the college grew in enrollment, academic programs, and facilities. Among the buildings constructed were two residence halls, a dining hall, a gymnasium, a library, a fine arts academic building, residence cottages, tennis courts, and an outdoor swimming pool.
A member of the college’s first graduating class, Michael A. Magnoli, succeeded Weaver as president in 1984. Magnoli began his career as a high school biology educator and moved into public school administration before joining his alma mater as director of development in 1978, then vice president in 1981. Among his first acts as president was to launch an intercollegiate athletic program that today boasts eight national championship titles in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Additional facilities were constructed, including a tennis Weaver Jr., William K. complex, athletic fields, residence hall, and classroom buildings. The century-old St. Stephens Baptist Church was moved to campus in 1987, restored, and renamed Lyon Chapel in honor of former trustee Willie Mae Lewis Lyon. The chapel is an acknowledgement of the commitment of Alabama Baptists to the university they established and their continued support.
On July 1, 1993, Mobile College became the University of Mobile to reflect the growth in programs and facilities. In the fall of 1993, the university opened the Latin American Branch Campus in San Marcos, Nicaragua, to add an international component to the university, expand academic programs, and increase enrollment. Ultimately, the campus proved to be a drain on the university’s financial resources and led to the departure of President Magnoli in 1997. The campus was sold to Tom Monaghan, the founder of the Dominos Pizza chain, who turned it into the Ave Maria College of the Americas. Retired Mobile businessman Walter Hovell, who had served as a trustee of the university for 11 years, was appointed interim president.
On February 13, 1998, the Board of Trustees appointed Mark Foley as president of the university. Previously, Foley had served as executive vice president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Under Foley’s leadership, the university renovated and refurbished facilities throughout the campus, constructed two residence halls, and established the Center for Performing Arts.
The University of Mobile is governed by a board of trustees. Members are recommended by the president of the university, reviewed by the Committee on Boards at the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and appointed by the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Trustees must be members of Alabama Baptist churches who are cooperating members of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. The university’s bylaws allow for 36 elected trustees and an unlimited number of Foley, Mark life trustees who serve a continuing appointment as active trustees. Elected trustees serve 4-year terms with reelection possible up to a maximum of 12 continuous years, after which an individual must be off the board for at least one year before becoming eligible to return. Life trustees must have held an elected position on the board for 20 years and may then be presented by the president for election to the life position. As of April 2008, the university had 33 elected trustees and four life trustees.
Today, the university offers more than 40 areas of study through the College of Arts and Sciences, Center for Performing Arts, School of Business, School of Christian Studies, School of Education, School of Nursing, and Center for Adult Programs. Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, nursing, and religious studies. As a teaching institution, faculty members’ primary focus is on teaching, and classes are taught by faculty members, not graduate students. The university maintains an average student-faculty ratio of 13:1. Approximately 68 percent of the faculty holds terminal degrees in their field, and more than 33 percent are tenured. The university employs more than 200 full-time faculty and staff, in addition to approximately 200 part-time faculty, staff, and students.
Although the university began as a commuter university, officials quickly added residential facilities. Nearly 40 percent of the student body lives on campus and more than 65 percent of students are Southern Baptist. Approximately 65 percent of students are from the Mobile area and surrounding counties, 17 percent are from other locations in Alabama, and 18 percent are from outside the state.
The university colors are maroon and white, and a ram is the mascot. The school’s intercollegiate program began in 1985. The university fields athletic teams for both men and women in soccer, basketball, golf, cross country, and track, in addition to women’s softball, men’s baseball, and women’s volleyball and cheerleading. The university has won championships in men’s tennis in 1993; women’s tennis (1994); men’s golf, men’s tennis, and women’s soccer in 1997; women’s golf (1998); men’s soccer (2002); and women’s softball (2006).
The college seal expresses the heritage of the university. The two stars within a circle represent aspiration and guidance, the torch represents truth, and the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 111:10), “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” express the belief that mankind experiences wisdom through a relationship with God, who is the ultimate truth.
“Mobile College is Dedicated.” The Alabama Baptist Newspaper, Sept. 19, 1963, p. 5.
Weaver, William K., Jr. “A College Is Born: The Founding and Early Years of Mobile College.” Alabama Baptist Historian 31 (July 1995): 3-17.