The 1960s Remembered: How National Events Shaped University of Omaha Students

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Part Three Who Are You People?: Major Population Changes

Civil rights issues were not the only major issue to change the UO campus and Omaha community-wide dynamics. From 1960 to 1970, the population of Douglas, Sarpy, and Pottawattamie counties increased from 310,249 inhabitants to 542,646 inhabitants (Rea 108-120). This dramatic increase in population also affected UO. In 1961, Cody’s incoming class of 1965 pushed enrollment records to a new high of 8,100 students (Gateway 1). In 1968, another record was set when 10,600 students enrolled at UO, and out of those students, more than 6,000 were full-time students (Gateway 1). This increased enrollment at UO/ UNO throughout the 1960s also meant that an increasing number of women were attending the university as compared to past generations. According to the Gateway, Cody’s 1965 graduating class had 904 students who received their degrees at the 56th Annual Commencement, with 98 of those students receiving their degree in education (Gateway 1). The commencement exercises revealed that the vast majority of women who attended UO received their degrees in general education, education, nursing, and home economics, and according to Cody, this was due to the fact that these were “acceptable degrees” for a woman to receive (University 3-10; Cody Interview). The support of Cody’s parents for her professional ambition and the increasing acceptance for her education at the university level was due in part to the increasing number of female students enrolling at UO, as well as their desire for her to have a better, more financially secure life (Cody Interview).

The increase in enrollment that UO experienced during the 1960s also exacerbated the financial stress felt by the university. Before 1968, the University of Nebraska at Omaha was known as Omaha University and was not yet part of the statewide educational system that included the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Since UO was not part of this statewide system, the university only received money from the taxpayers of Omaha as a municipal university, as opposed to taxes from the rest of the state like the Nebraska universities and colleges that were part of the statewide system (McKibbin 1). During the 1960s, UO was encountering large financial woes due to the drastic increase in enrollment numbers as the Baby Boomer Generation started to enroll at the university, as well as the unresponsiveness of the Omahans who failed to approve a higher local tax to support the university (McKibbin 2). Therefore, during the 1960s, the future of UO looked rather bleak.

It was not until members of the Nebraska Unicameral decided to press the state legislature to incorporate UO into the state university system that the university’s future looked brighter. The advocates for UO’s inclusion were successful due to their strong argument: if UO was forced to close, the nine to ten thousand students that attended UO would enroll at UNL, causing financial stress and growing pains at UNL (McKibbin 2).  Rural Nebraskans were not as happy about this merger because it meant that less money would go to rural colleges such as Kearney State, Chadron State, Wayne State, and Peru State colleges, and this merger could mean higher taxes for rural residents (McKibbin 2). Nevertheless, even with this dissent, UO was incorporated into the statewide system in 1968 to save the state money that would have gone to constructing larger facilities in Lincoln (McKibbin 1). Once UO was incorporated into the statewide system, its name changed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the state universities added a Board of Regents at the top of the university hierarchy (McKibbin 2).

The financial stress felt by UO that forced it be incorporated into a statewide system was also felt by students like Gail Cody. According to Cody, during the middle of her senior year, she came to the sad realization that unless she could earn a lot more money at her secretarial job for one of the Botany professors, she would not be able to attend school the following semester (Cody Interview). Scholarships and loans were available to students during the 1960s, but they were not as readily available or as easily accessible as they are for students today (Cody Interview). In addition, Ms. Cody did not want to and could not turn to her parents for financial support like many students today (Cody Interview). Thankfully, when Ms. Cody told the faculty moderator of the Student Education Association about her financial distress, Mrs. Taybor marched her down to the administration building to find her a scholarship (Cody 2010). Luckily for Ms. Cody, the financial aid office did have some scholarship money that had not yet been claimed that Ms. Cody could claim to help pay her school costs throughout the rest of her undergraduate education (Cody Interview).

 

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Part Four JFK Assassination

One final “memorable” event of the 1960s, besides the financial distress of UO and Ms. Cody, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22 1963. The Omaha community was obviously moved by this turn of events due to the front-page coverage of the JFK funeral in the Omaha World Herald in the days following the assassination. It is obvious that these images and news stories moved the students at UO, because many of the front-page clippings, including the images of JFK’s funeral and news reports from Washington D.C. November 23-26, were scrapbooked in the AFROTC/Angel Flight scrapbook (AFROTC Scrapbook 1964). UO also saw an outcry of emotion toward this tragedy.  In the editorial section of the December 6, 1963 issue of the Gateway, one of the letters to the editor eluded to the fact that the UO