A lasting legacy
The late Philip Guthrie Hoffman became the fifth president of the University of Houston in September 1961, inheriting a segregated private university with 12,000 students.
In his 16 years as the University’s president, Hoffman, who died Wednesday at the age of 93, led the vast expansion and evolution of UH into a state university system
"He was one of the really true visionaries. He could see, and he understood what this University was about before it became was it is," UH Dean of Libraries Dana Rooks said. "He understood the vision the Cullen family had when they established the University of Houston. He understood that it had to be a state institution, it couldn’t remain a private university, and it had to have absolutely top-quality faculty and had to have top-notch facilities which, in his tenure, he built 31 buildings."
Hoffman organized meetings of Houston’s influential minds to discuss progress of various projects throughout the city. Richard Johnson, former publisher of The Houston Chronicle, along with politicians, leaders in business, and medical industry titans gathered at the Petroleum Club to gain support for their causes and offer their services to each other to for the good of the city.
"They had a lunch, the third Friday of every month…. Phil got them together and said, ‘This is what the city needs, and this is the role the University will take to support it,’" Rooks said. "They looked at not only at their own backyard, but the greater good of the city."
In his first year as president, Hoffman organized a think tank on a late afternoon at the Houston Club. He gathered Houston’s elite from what were then locally owned television stations, radio stations and newspapers to address the media’s role in UH’s approaching racial integration.
"Phil said we need to integrate the University of Houston, and we can either do it the way its being done around the country – with the flashbulbs and the protests – or we can just do it, because it’s the right thing to do," Rooks said. "And he said, ‘I can’t have any of your reporters and cameras, I just want the students to look around one day and say, ‘Oh, we’re integrated.’" And of course, as he told me, you couldn’t do that today."
Less than a year after students staged sit-ins in Greensboro N.C. and two years before Gov. George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama declaring "segregation forever," UH was peaceably integrated.
From that first year, through what became the longest tenure of any UH president, Hoffman led the University to achieve state affiliation in 1963 and to create the UH System, establishing UH-Clear Lake in 1971, UH-Victoria in 1973 and UH-Downtown in 1974. In 1977 he began his two-year stay as the first chancellor of the UH System.
Rooks said Hoffman’s vision for UH and his legacy extends beyond the hallowed walls of UH, and embraces the entire city of Houston.
"He believed in this University and what it could give to the city and the citizens of the city," Rooks said. "He fulfilled the vision of the Cullen family, who wanted a university – that wasn’t a Rice – that could create the educated population that this city had to have if it was to become what it has become…. And he was just unwavering in his vision and in his efforts to make that happen."