Charles E. Perry
Providing greater access to scholarship funds is one of the main reasons FIU’s founding president, Charles E. Perry, established the non-profit FIU Foundation in 1969. With the help of many members of our faculty and staff, as well as his widow, Betty Perry, the Perry Graduate Scholarship was made possible. Below is more information about our first FIU president.
Charles E. Perry
Florida International University was founded in 1969 with Charles E. Perry as president. Perry was 32 years old, the youngest public university president in the nation. He came to Miami a highly regarded education expert who had served as vice chancellor of the Florida Board of Regents, which oversaw the State University System. Florida Gov. Claude Kirk had recruited Perry to Florida in 1967 from Bowling State University in Ohio where he had earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, then climbed the ranks from an admissions counselor to the director of development.
As the founding president, Perry navigated the tricky political waters of establishing and funding a new university, which some actively opposed as a threat to existing universities. He was responsible for countless early decisions about the future of the 344-acre university that was to be built at the site of an abandoned airport in northwest Miami-Dade County. He assembled a team of founding administrators and hired the campus architect who designed FIU’s original master plan. Perry launched university operations in the abandoned control tower at the center of the campus with no phones, no drinkable water and no furniture. He also decided that the control tower should never be destroyed, dubbing it FIU’s ‘Ivory Tower.” Perry’s wife, First Lady Betty Perry played a critical role in the early years of FIU development, doing such things as taking the spouses of prospective deans on tours of Miami and entertaining a long line of dignitaries involved with university planning. She is also credited with starting FIU’s fine arts programs and served as a liaison between the university and community art and cultural groups.
In just three short years, Perry and his team turned the abandoned airport into an upper division university with six schools and colleges and a faculty of 300, 98 percent of whom had Ph.D.s. On opening day, Sept. 14, 1972 FIU had 5,667 students, the largest first year enrollment recorded in US higher education history. From the start, Perry understood the special role of an urban university to perceive and take responsibility for solving urban and technological problems. He also understood the growing importance of the economic and social relationship between Miami and Latin America. He was an early advocate of establishing an academic center for the study of Latin America, an idea that would be fulfilled three years after his departure by a young professor, Mark Rosenberg, who in 2009 became FIU’s fifth president.
During Perry’s seven-year tenure, FIU grew to 10,000 students, 134 degree programs, and five major buildings on a $50 million campus.
“We have chartered the beginning course for Florida International University,” Perry said. “How wisely we have planned and how well we shall implement those plays will be measured by those who will later come to judge us. Undoubtedly we shall alter our plans from time to time as we proceed, but the direction for this newly born institution has become clear. Only history will prove if we have chosen the correct route. We think we have.”