The University of Dubuque's long and distinguished history of leadership, innovation, and change in service to church and world began in 1852 when the Rev. Adrian Van Vliet started to tutor two brothers for the ministry. The Van Vliet School provided spiritual leadership for the burgeoning population of immigrants from Germany on the American frontier.

In 1864, the school was formally named the German Theological School of the Northwest. Six years later, in 1870, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church assumed control of the institution and renamed it the German Theological School of the Presbyterian Church of the Northwest. Over the next 50 years, the institution underwent multiple name changes until June 17, 1920, when a new charter was issued along with the new name of the University of Dubuque.

In 1905, President William O. Ruston and Financial Secretary Cornelius M. Steffens reorganized the institution to expand its curriculum and grant academic degrees. In April 1905, the first four bachelor's degrees from the school were awarded. During this time, Steffens led the charge to relocate campus to its present location on six acres of land along what is now University Avenue. The new campus' first building, later named Steffens Hall, was dedicated in April 1907.

During Steffens' tenure as president from 1908 to 1924, the campus expanded and became co-educational. Generous people who recognized the institution's potential provided funding for the buildings that constituted the core of the campus by 1917: Severance Hall, Steffens Hall, Peters Commons, and McCormick Gymnasium. By 1923, University of Dubuque became a truly international institution with 96 of the 296 students from Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Barely surviving the Great Depression, the University of Dubuque faced another challenge during World War II. Nearly 500 students and former students joined the military. President Dale D. Welch secured the Navy's V5/V12 program on campus in July 1943 that allowed sailors to take college courses. The program provided resources until the advent of the post-war GI Bill®, which revolutionized higher education and society, filling campus with motivated veterans.

President Gaylord M. Couchman led the University of Dubuque in building a modern campus during the 1950s and 1960s. No buildings, except for Van Vliet Hall in 1925-1926, had been constructed on campus since 1917. Under Couchman's leadership, Aitchison, Donnell, and Cassat residence halls, Ficke-Laird Library, Goldthorp Science Hall, Smith Hall, and Potterveld Apartments were built while McCormick Gymnasium underwent an addition. The growth in buildings made it possible to increase academic offerings, the endowment, and enrollment.

The 1970s produced a remarkable ecumenical thrust in higher education under the leadership of President Walter F. Peterson. University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Aquinas Institute of Theology, and Wartburg Theological Seminary created an unprecedented threefold seminary consortium. Aquinas became the home for UDTS until 1981 when Aquinas moved to St. Louis, Missouri, thus dissolving the consortium, and UDTS returned to campus.

During the 1980s, the University of Dubuque once again underwent multiple changes. Steffens Hall, the original building on campus, was razed, and Blades Hall was constructed. Arches and pillars from Steffens Hall were saved to create Steffens Colonnade - a piece of history that welcomes visitors to campus along University Avenue. During this same time period, the addition of Stoltz Sports Center on McCormick Gymnasium doubled the size of the indoor athletic facility.

In June 1998, Jeffrey F. Bullock became the eleventh president of University of Dubuque. Under his leadership and with guidance from the Mission, Vision, Action Plan, adopted by the Board of Trustees, the University of Dubuque continues to provide leadership, innovation, and change in the church and society. Multiple initiatives and programs support that service including Apex: Celebration of Student Scholarship and Creativity, the John and Alice Butler Summer Research Fellowship, the Joseph and Linda Chlapaty Summer Research Fellowship, and Wendt Character Initiative.

Since Bullock became president, the University of Dubuque has grown its campus footprint in the most extensive transformation of the university's history - a blueprint that was known as the Plan for Transformation. The changes that have taken place have been both physical and programmatic, and in every possible way, have been quite possibly one of the most remarkable transformations in the history of higher education.

Campus expansion has included the following renovations or new construction:

  • Jackaline Baldwin Dunlap Technology Center
  • Charles C. Myers Library
  • South Campus construction - included Seminary Village, Alumni Walkway, Conlon Colonnade, University Park Village Apartments, University Park Drive, and Oyen Field.
  • Cassat, Donnell, and Aitchison residence halls renovations
  • Charles and Romona Myers Center
  • University Science Center renovation
  • Goldthorp Hall renovation
  • Mary Chlapaty Hall
  • Chlapaty Recreation and Wellness Center.
  • Mercer-Birmingham Hall
  • Heritage Center
  • Veterans Memorial Training Center
  • Barbara and Jack Smeltzer Dining Hall renovation
  • Sergeant Jeffrey B. Dodge Veterans Center
  • Linda Chlapaty Hall addition to the University Science Center
  • Debra Runkle Center
  • Dan W. Runkle Baseball Field renovation
  • Wallace Common
  • Babka Aviation Learning Center
  • Smeltzer-Kelly Student Health Center
  • Peter and Susan Smith Welcome Center
  • Van Vliet Hall renovation
  • Severance Hall renovation
  • Grace Plaza construction - formerly Grace Street

In 2021, 121 acres of unglaciated land about 20 miles from campus was purchased after the previous property owners, Mari and Gary Wolter, proposed UD become stewards of the land. The Wolters had partnered with the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences for a decade on a variety of research projects and educational activities. The property's official name became Wolter Woods and Prairies Environmental Stewardship and Retreat Center.

Growth has also occurred in academic offerings including in 2016, the University of Dubuque welcomed its inaugural class of students in the master of science in physician assistant studies program. Additionally, the University of Dubuque launched a new master in management program in 2018 designed to help graduate students develop an understanding of management practices and leadership skills in an organization. The program expanded and now has tracks in communication, sport management, aviation leadership, and organizational diversity and inclusion leadership.

As the University continues to grow, we remember and honor those who have committed themselves in service to the University's Mission of shaping lives of exceptional ability, worth, and purpose, as wel also honor all of the University's alumni family - committed to serving the Church and the World with (Various Gifts and One Spirit).

In June 2024, Travis L. Frampton, Ph.D. became the twelfth president of University of Dubuque.

The following is a list of all those who have served as Presidents of the University of Dubuque.

  • Travis L. Frampton, Ph.D.
    The Twelfth President
    2024 - Current

  • Jeffrey Francis Bullock, Ph.D.
    The Eleventh President
    1998 - 2024

  • Bruce Meriwether
    Acting President
    1996 - 1998

  • John James Agria
    The Tenth President
    1990 - 1996

  • Walter Fritiof Peterson
    The Ninth President
    1970 - 1990

  • William George Chalmers
    The Eighth President
    1967 - 1970

  • Gaylord Murray Couchman
    The Seventh President
    1953 - 1967

  • Rollo Collet La Porte
    The Sixth President
    1948 - 1953

  • Samuel S. George
    Acting President
    1947 - 1948

  • Dale Dennis Welch
    The Fifth President
    1936 - 1947

  • William Berdette Zuker
    Acting President
    1935 - 1936

  • Paul H. Buchholz
    The Fourth President
    1929 - 1935

  • William Berdette Zuker
    Acting President
    1927 - 1929

  • Karl Frederick Wettstone
    The Third President
    1924 - 1927

  • Cornelius Martin Steffens
    The Second President
    1908 - 1923

  • William Otis Ruston
    The First President
    1904 - 1908


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