During World War II, Professor Nathan Dougherty of the College of Engineering assembled a faculty in Nashville to conduct noncredit courses to prepare workers for war-related occupations. At the war’s conclusion, Dougherty urged F. C. Lowery, director of University Extension, to convert the program into a continuing peacetime activity. Lowery organized the Nashville Center, which opened officially in 1947, with John B. “Jug” Woods as the administrator in charge, to offer evening school courses for Nashvillians.
The center was first located in a small building on the edge of the Vanderbilt campus that the UT Agricultural Extension Service had purchased in 1936. That facility was sufficient for the 13 classes (192 students) in 1947, but when enrollment tripled the next year, classes were held at Hume-Fogg Technical and Vocational High School. After receiving the School of Social Work in 1951, space at the center’s building was even more crowded, and center classes met in over a dozen locations. In 1957 the center moved to 810 Broadway. In 1960 UT granted permission for the center to offer two years of resident credit, and 3,521 students enrolled in one or more credit classes during the four-quarter first year. In 1963, when three years of resident credit were first given, enrollment swelled to 5,017. On November 5, 1965, a delegation of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce attended a meeting of the board of trustees, asking that the Nashville branch become a degree-granting night school for adults. The center began offering four years’ resident credit for all undergraduate programs in 1965.
Early in 1966, the board began the process of acquiring 3.7 acres on Charlotte Avenue and started planning for a $5 million facility for the Nashville Center. The university designated the Nashville Center as a campus of the UT system on December 31, 1970, and on March 5, 1971, Governor Winfield Dunn signed a bill granting UT at Nashville “campus status,” which meant more freedom in curricular decisions at Nashville, and the granting of degrees from UT at Nashville (rather than from UT Knoxville) for work done in Nashville.
Plans for the new building were announced in 1968, and on May 21, 1968, five persons filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Middle Tennessee against UT, Tennessee State University, Governor Buford Ellington, the State Board of Education, and the US Office of Education (USOE) charging that “the sole reason for expansion of the Nashville extension and duplication of degrees is to ensure the perpetuation of segregated universities within the City of Nashville.” They also sought a halt to construction of the new facility. Before the case went to court, the USOE was dropped as a defendant and became a plaintiff, and the Justice Department intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs. The court ruled that construction could proceed but required a master plan for desegregation of higher education. In April 1969 the State of Tennessee filed the desegregation plan with Judge Frank Gray, as he had required, and at the same time, the plaintiffs filed a proposal calling for the merger of TSU and UTN. Judge Gray ordered feasibility studies of the possible merger of the two institutions. In 1974 he ordered that UT cease to offer its graduate education program in Nashville. On July 31, 1974, the Desegregation Monitoring Committee filed a plan that recommended keeping the two institutions separate and offering certain joint programs, certain cooperative programs, and certain exclusive programs. Avon Williams, representing a group of intervening plaintiffs, filed a motion for TSU to absorb UTN. After a final hearing in fall 1976, Judge Gray gave his final ruling on January 31, 1977. He ordered a merger of UT Nashville with Tennessee State University, into a university to be part of the Board of Regents system, with the merger to be complete by July 1, 1980.
The UT trustees and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission appealed the ruling, but the appeal was denied. The merger began on July 1, 1979, and was completed a year later.