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George Mason University
2002-03 University Catalog

About George Mason University

Highlights of George Mason's History

George Mason University's growing reputation as an innovative educational leader is rooted in Virginia's strong educational tradition. By emphasizing the needs of its region, high technology, public policy, and the fine and performing arts, George Mason has created a curriculum and mission to meet the needs of Northern Virginia's extraordinary cosmopolitan constituency.

The idea for George Mason University was born in 1949 when the Northern Virginia University Center, essentially an adult education extension of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, opened under the direction of John Norville Gibson Finley. In 1955–6, the Board of Visitors of University of Virginia and Virginia legislature authorized the establishment of a two-year branch college to serve Northern Virginia, also under Finley.

The university's formal history began in 1957 as University College, the Northern Virginia branch of the University of Virginia, offering courses in engineering and the liberal arts. It opened in a renovated elementary school in Bailey's Crossroads with an enrollment of 17 students.

Eager to support the fledgling institution, the Town (now City) of Fairfax purchased 150 acres in 1958 and donated the land to the University of Virginia for a permanent branch campus. The following year, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors selected the name George Mason College. Construction of the campus's first four buildings was completed in 1964. In September of that year, 356 students began their studies in the new classrooms.

In March 1966, the General Assembly authorized the expansion of George Mason College into a four-year, degree-granting institution and gave it the long-range mandate to expand into a major regional university. The first senior class received degrees in June 1968. Graduate programs began in September 1970, with the first master's degrees conferred in June 1971. The George Mason College Board of Control, supported by citizens of Alexandria, Falls Church, and Arlington and Fairfax counties, acquired an additional 422 acres. By the end of 1970, the college's Fairfax Campus reached 572 acres; it is now 677 acres.

In 1972, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia recommended that the college separate from its parent institution. On April 7, the governor signed the General Assembly legislation that established George Mason University as an independent member of the commonwealth's system of colleges and universities.

Since 1972, the university's development has been marked by rapid growth and innovative planning. In 29 years, enrollment has risen from 4,166 to nearly 25,000 students in 2001. In 1979, George Mason was given the authority to grant doctoral degrees and began offering programs at this level. In the same year, the university acquired what became George Mason University School of Law, located at the Arlington Campus.

In 1984, the first Robinson Professors, a group of outstanding scholars committed to undergraduate teaching and interdisciplinary scholarship, joined the faculty as the result of a generous bequest from Clarence J. Robinson.

Drawing prominent scholars from all fields, George Mason's outstanding faculty also includes Pulitzer Prize winners, IEEE Centennial Medalists, and recipients of numerous Fulbright, National Science Foundation, and National Endowment of the Arts grants and awards, among others. The university's 34 endowed chairs have also brought many artists and scholars to campus.

In 1985, George Mason, in partnership with area businesses, developed an engineering program geared toward the emerging information technology field and started the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E). Through IT&E, George Mason was the first institution in the country to offer a doctoral degree in information technology.

The establishment of the Institute of the Arts in 1990 (which became the College of Visual and Performing Arts in 2000) solidified the university's commitment to make the arts a pervasive part of students' lives. The Center for the Arts and the arts complex, which includes art galleries, studio and rehearsal space, and performing venues such as Harris Theater and TheaterSpace, are all components of the college.

George Mason has expanded its presence to serve the entire Northern Virginia region by employing the revolutionary concept of the "distributed university." Designed to help George Mason serve the needs of its region, the distributed university consists of one university at multiple locations, with each location based on a programmatic theme that reflects the needs of the community. The Prince William Campus was established in partnership with state and county governments and the private sector. A partnership with American Type Culture Collection, the world's foremost archive of living cultures, has led to academic programs focusing on the biosciences, which will make Prince William County a center for biotechnology.

The university is also expanding its presence in Arlington. Arlington I, completed in 1999, is a 132,000-square-foot building and the first in a three-phase plan to develop the 5.2-acre site. Arlington County recently approved a $5 million bond referendum to assist the university with the development of the second new building. The Phase II expansion, estimated to cost $42 million, will be a 240,000-square-foot building and public plaza, each with two levels of underground parking, located between Arlington I and the Original Building. The new building also will house an auditorium, art gallery, library, and conference space designed for educational and community use. Also, the George Mason University Foundation is working with the county to develop a commercial and parking structure next to the campus on Washington Boulevard.

The innovative George W. Johnson Center was dedicated on April 12, 1996. By combining student life resources with educational support facilities such as an interactive library, George Mason has created the learning workspace of the future. Educational administrators from around the world have toured the center.

George Mason University has achieved national distinction in many areas. Its reputation continues to grow as the university provides an educational, cultural, and economic resource for the people of Northern Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the nation.