In January 1968, the free speech movement was at its peak. Conversations around the Vietnam War, race relations and women’s issues become more commonplace. As a result came the free university movement, and a group of K-State faculty and students founded the University for Man.
“There were some groups meeting around Manhattan around particular topics,” said Linda Teener, executive director of UFM. “They heard about each other. Got together and said, ‘hey, maybe we should join forces.’ They were aware of the free university movement that was going on.”
When the UFM was founded 50 years ago, many who were frustrated with the issues of the time didn’t feel like they had a place to speak out.
“If you study history at that time, there were not a lot of opportunities for traditionally college-aged students, and faculty as well, to start having some of these more difficult discussions,” Kayla Savage, education coordinator at UFM, said. “There wasn’t really a place for it in the traditional college level classroom.”
UFM became the place where anyone could speak out and say want they truly wanted to say.
“It became a way for students and faculty to share ideas in a neutral setting,” Teener said. “There was a lot of controversy around education and the way people were being taught. [At UFM], you could say what you wanted to say and not be criticized. You could just come and share what you know with other people.”
UFM believes that everyone can learn and everyone can teach. While many of the courses are non-credit, some are offered for credit. When the program started in 1968, only seven classes were offered. The number has now grown to about 250.
“UFM really serves as a connector,” Savage said. “We connect people who want to share their knowledge, share their expertise, share their passion with others in the community who want to learn.”
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To celebrate UFM’s 50th anniversary, the William T. Kemper art gallery in the K-State Student Union is currently showcasing an exhibit describing the history of the UFM and displaying many artifacts from the time, including the original handwritten flyer calling for those interested in the experimental college to come together.
“We wanted to tell a story about UFM’s founding and also be a lighthouse for current students,” Savage said. “UFM had a lot of involvement from K-State students. In fact, K-State students were a big reason that UFM started.
“There were a lot of issues that they were interested in talking about and they felt like, unfortunately, they couldn’t talk about them in the traditional classroom,” Savage continued. “They needed a place for that, they needed an outlet for that. They needed to know that they could make some progressive and effective change. UFM was the place for that. 50 years later, students might be feeling the same way.”
Erika Davis, UPC program coordinator, said she wants the exhibit to show the opportunities UFM provides.
“I want [visitors] to know how UFM started and then everything they’ve had the last 50 years,” Davis said. “I just want people to know the variety of courses and opportunities that are out there for the community.”