HOUSTON – Philip Guthrie Hoffman, described by many as the builder of the modern University of Houston, died Wednesday at the age of 93.
Hoffman served as the fifth president of the University of Houston and was the first head of the University of Houston System.
“The University of Houston family extends its deepest sympathy to Dr. Hoffman’s family,” said Renu Khator, UH president and chancellor of the UH System. “Dr. Hoffman served the university with loyalty, vision, energy and commitment. Under his watch, the landscape of the University of Houston was forever transformed. We have lost a true Cougar friend.”
Khator proclaimed Oct. 31 as Philip G. Hoffman Day. The university will fly the flag at half-staff in his honor.
Hoffman began his tenure as president of the University of Houston in 1961, at a time when the university was a private institution facing deep financial troubles. State affiliation was the solution, and Hoffman led the fight in Austin that culminated in May 1963 when UH became state-supported.
Under Hoffman’s leadership, UH was firmly established as a major higher education institution, achieving tremendous growth and success. From 1961 to 1977, university enrollment grew from 12,187 to 29,297. Hoffman also launched fund-raising campaigns bringing tens of millions of dollars to the campus.
In 2005, UH System regents presented Hoffman with a resolution honoring his contributions to UH and the UH System. At that time, Hoffman said of his days as the university’s chief executive officer, “One of the things I’m most proud of is the way we integrated the University of Houston.
“We decided to integrate the university because it made good sense politically and, more importantly, it was the right thing to do. We had hoped to integrate the university beginning in the summer of 1961. About three days before this was to happen, I invited the editors of the newspapers and the heads of the television and principal radio stations for cocktails one late afternoon in the Houston Club.
“I told them that we were going to integrate the University of Houston, and we … could either do it quietly or we could have something that resembled Mississippi or Alabama. My choice was that students would look around (one day) and say ‘we are integrated.’ There were at least 15 people in that room, and that was a tremendous story. Everyone there agreed that it was best to integrate the university peacefully. So, the university integrated quietly, and that is all there was to it.”
In the summer of 1961, the University of Houston enrolled its first African-American, a graduate music student. By March 1963, there were 20 African-American students attending UH.
Dana Rooks, dean of libraries at UH and a friend and colleague of Hoffman, said, “As president, Dr. Hoffman made the original vision of the Cullen family a reality. His leadership and tireless efforts to recruit top faculty, build state-of-the-art facilities, expand degree programs, and create a true research library moved the University of Houston from a local private college to a nationally recognized public university.
“To many, Dr. Philip G. Hoffmanis the University of Houston. His legacy to the citizens of Houston and the former and future students of the University of Houston is beyond measure. He is one of the great figures in Houston history whose contributions made this city what it is today.”
Hoffman was born Aug. 6, 1915, in Kobe, Japan. He received an A.B. in business in 1938 from Pacific Union College; an M.A. in history in 1942 from the University of Southern California; and a Ph.D. in history in 1948 from Ohio State University. From 1940-1945, he served in the U.S. Navy as a U.S. intelligence communications specialist. His academic career includes College of History professorships at the University of Alabama (1949-1953); Oregon State System of Higher Education (1953-1956); Portland State College (1956-1957); and the University of Houston (1957-1961).
An overwhelming transformation of UH took place during the 16 years in which Hoffman led the university. Under his leadership, the university not only saw huge increases in enrollment, but in the faculty, physical plant (construction, addition or remodeling of 31 structures), library holdings and other critical areas.
During Hoffman's tenure, the University of Houston System was formed; its official beginning authorized by the 1969 Legislature, opening the first branch as an upper-level second campus, now the University of Houston at Clear Lake, in 1977. Hoffman was also instrumental in securing the facility for the university's downtown campus in 1974.
Hoffman is the holder of the UH President Emeritus honorific. He also holds honorary degrees from the University of Houston and eight other universities in the United States, Mexico, and Korea, and in 1971 was honored with the Houston Alumni Organization’s “President’s Award.” In 1980, Philip Guthrie Hoffmann Hall was named in his honor.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.