University of Montevallo

The University of Montevallo is a public university in Montevallo, Alabama. Founded in 1896, it is Alabama's only public liberal arts college and a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.

University of Montevallo
MottoYou Belong at Montevallo
TypePublic university
EstablishedOctober 12, 1896
PresidentJohn W. Stewart III
Location, ,
United States

ColorsPurple and gold          
AffiliationsNCAA Division II; GSC


Alabama Girls' Industrial School
University of Montevallo campus
LocationBounded by Middle Campus Dr., Oak, Bloch and Middle Sts., Montevallo, Alabama
Area25.7 acres (10.4 ha)
Architectural styleColonial Revival, Greek Revival, Federal
NRHP reference #78000509[1]
Added to NRHPDecember 11, 1978

The main part of the campus was designed by the Olmsted brothers and the central part is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The university opened in October 1896 as the Alabama Girls' Industrial School (AGIS), a women-only technical school that also offered high school-level courses. AGIS became the Alabama Girls' Technical Institute in 1911, further adding "and College for Women" in 1919. The school gradually developed as a traditional degree-granting institution, becoming Alabama College, State College for Women in 1923.

The school effectively became coeducational after lobbying by the school's supporters resulted in the Alabama Legislature passing a bill on January 15, 1956 to remove the designation "State College for Women". The first men entered the school that same month. Its student body still maintains a 7:5 ratio of women to men.

In 1965, the board of trustees authorized President D.P. Culp to sign the Certificates of Assurance of Compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[2] In the fall of 1968, three African American women, Carolyn Burpo, Ruby Kennbrew and Dorothy (Lilly) Turner, enrolled in the university.[2] On September 1, 1969, Alabama College was renamed the University of Montevallo.

The Alabama Girls' Industrial School was listed on the National Register in 1978. In 1990, the University of Montevallo Historic District was listed on the National Register, as an expansion.

Montevallo is in the geographic center of Alabama in an area rich with Civil War history. Many of the buildings on campus predate the founding of the college, including King House (reserved for special guests of the campus) and Reynolds Hall (used by the Theater Department and alumni relations). King House was reportedly the first home in Alabama to receive pane glass windows. With slightly over 3,000 students, the university has a significant economic impact on the surrounding communities in Shelby County.


College Night

The oldest tradition at Montevallo is called College Night, an intramural competition between the Purple Side and the Gold Side. The tradition officially began on March 3, 1919, in honor of the school adding the name "college" to its title.

The homecoming competition consists of sports events, management of the side finances, and spirit. While these are key to the game of College Night, the primary focus is two student written, produced and performed musicals—one for each competing side.

For a small university in which the student-to-faculty ratio is only about 17-to-1, participation is key. A noticeable number of people participate in bringing the tradition together; at least 400 actually participate in the activities, but it is a tremendous success that draws those who do participate back after many years of being out of college. Each year, the school's Palmer Auditorium, which boasts a large stage, orchestra pit and seating for 1200, is standing room only as alumni and spectators gather to witness the unique tradition that is College Night.

"First designed to celebrate the introduction of a 4-year college curriculum, the early celebrations were competitions between classes. In 1921, to celebrate UM's 25th anniversary, students divided into two teams, the Gold Side and the Purple Side."[3] The two colors of the school, purple and gold, compete for the title of either "PV" (purple victory) or "GV" (gold victory).

The student involvement is all-inclusive: there are athletic intramurals that count for points toward victory, cheerleading competitions, signs designed and painted by students to be judged and even community efforts and fund raising drives to gain points toward a victory.

College Night is known as the oldest homecoming tradition of its kind in America. An exhibit about College Night is housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.[4]

Crook Week/Senior March

Traditionally, Crook Week was a week in late October when the senior class women would hide the "crook"—a staff shaped roughly like a shepherd's crook—and give obscure clues for the underclass women who were to find it.

At the end of Crook Week was Senior March. When the chimes struck thirteen, if the underclass women did not find the crook, the seniors march on them, getting them out of their rooms and onto Main Quad where they would have a shaving cream and water balloon battle. If the underclass women found the crook, they were safe that year. This tradition ended in the 1990s because the administration considered it hazing.

Today, the Hiding of the Crook occurs the week of Founders' Day. The administration hides the crook and leaves clues as to where it can be found. The finder of the crook gets recognized at Founders' Day with a small prize.

Life Raft Debate

The Life Raft Debate is an annual event sponsored by the Philosophy Club. The debate has occurred each fall semester since 1998, making it the longest continually-held debate of its type. The debate occurs on the second Thursday in October during the university's Founders' Day commemoration.

In the Life Raft Debate, the audience is asked to imagine that there has been a nuclear war and that they, as the survivors, are setting sail to rebuild society from the ground up. There are a group of professors vying to win the coveted Oar and get on the raft, and only one seat is left. Each professor has to argue that his or her discipline is the one indispensable area of study that the new civilization will need to flourish.

Each professor gets to give an introductory account of his or her discipline then a brief rebuttal to the others. At the end of the debate, the audience votes and the lucky winner claims the Oar and climbs aboard, waving goodbye to the others. Often, a seventh participant, the Devil's Advocate, appears and tries to convince the audience that the entire panel is unworthy and that all should be left behind to drown. In the following year, the defending champion faces five new challengers in a new debate. To date, no one has successfully defended the Oar.

The first event was held in 1998 before an audience of roughly 200 people. Michael Sterner of the Mathematics Department carried the day with an impassioned defense of his discipline, touting both its usefulness and beauty and promising that, if he were to be saved, there would be "no more word problems ever."[5] In the subsequent years the debate's popularity grew to attract more than 800 audience members per year. Following years saw victories by professors from a variety of academic disciplines.

On March 12, 2010, the public radio show This American Life ran a story on the Life Raft Debate entitled "I'd Like to Spank the Academy."[6] The story followed the events of the 2007 Life Raft Debate in which the Devil's Advocate, Professor Jon Smith of the Department of English, successfully argued that all the panelists should be drowned because they were merely trying to be funny, not to educate or to defend the importance of their respective disciplines. Following the broadcast, several colleges and universities in the United States and abroad began hosting Life Raft Debates of their own, most after consulting the UM Philosophy Club for advice.

The 21st Annual Life Raft Debate took place on October 12, 2018. The current champion is Dr. Alex Beringer.

Campus resources

James Wylie Shepherd Observatory

The James Wylie Shepherd Observatory at the University of Montevallo was opened in the Fall of 2009. The observatory was built on the site of a former construction landfill, now remade into Gentry Springs field.[7] The observatory is a U of M sustainability landmark.[8]

The observatory is located roughly three miles from the main campus on the 150-acre Gentry Springs site owned by the university. The site offers excellent dark-sky observing in a convenient locale. It is the most state-of-the-art astronomical facility in Alabama. The JWSO is capable of world-class astronomical telescopic observation and astrophotography, has a dedicated telescope for solar viewing, and is one of very few observatories in the country that is designed specifically to be completely accessible to people of all disabilities.

Besides its observing capabilities, the JWSO will be a green facility, employing self-composting toilets, filtered rainwater and solar-generated electricity. The facility is currently used by UM classes, the Montevallo Astronomical Society, AMSTI partners and a variety of area K-12 classes and other local groups. There are also regularly-scheduled public viewing nights that are free of charge.

Upon completion, the observing complex will house an outdoor planetarium/amphitheater, a docent's cabin, walking trails, a digital indoor planetarium, a visiting scholar's dormitory, educational exhibits and a visitors' center in which groups can see images generated by the main telescope. Additional smaller scopes for solar and planetary observing can be set up at various locations outside the main dome, which is surrounded by solar-powered outdoor low-level lighting.

Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve

The University of Montevallo's Ebenezer Swamp consists of approximately 60 acres (240,000 m2) of wooded wetlands and is located on near the headwaters of Spring Creek, approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) northeast of the University in central Alabama.

Spring Creek and Ebenezer Swamp form a portion of the headwaters for the ecologically diverse and environmentally sensitive Cahaba River Watershed. The Cahaba is the longest remaining free-flowing river, has more species of fish per mile than any river in North America and is one of eight river biodiversity hotspots in the U.S.

UM is creating the Ebenezer Swamp Wetlands Interpretive and Research Center (ESWIRC) to focus greater research on wetland ecology and to increase educational opportunities for high school and middle school students from across the state of Alabama. Research goals center on: establishing and maintaining an inventory of plant, animal and fungal species; monitoring water quality, rainfall and stream flow rates; and future studies of wetland ecological processes and the effects of encroachment along the swamp margin. Education goals center on raising the profile of the ecologic importance of wetlands to high school and middle school students, while simultaneously providing them with a sound introduction to the underlying principles of biology.

ValloCycle: Montevallo Bike-Share Program

Formed through a collaborative partnership between the City of Montevallo and the University of Montevallo, the ValloCycle Bike-Share Program exists as a citywide initiative to enhance overall community walkability and individual citizen engagement with a lifestyle of sustainable, alternative transportation. The ValloCycle Bike-Share Program's primary means of achieving these goals is through its day-to-day operation of the ValloCycle Bike-Share Program, the first county-wide bicycle sharing program in the state of Alabama to offer low-cost bicycle rentals to all the members of its community.

Unlike other nearby campus bike-share programs, ValloCycle bicycle rentals are not limited solely to university students and are also not confined to one location. Rather, bicycle rentals are offered to all residents of Montevallo and the surrounding Shelby County area in three separate check-out locations. Annual membership fees amount to roughly $2 a month for adults and $1 a month per child.[9][10]

The all-volunteer ValloCycle Board oversees the implementation of a number of other campus and community programs, events, resources and public bicyclist/pedestrian infrastructure enhancements, including the Montevallo "Share the Lane" Initiative,[11] the ValloCycle Town Map Project,[12] and the Montevallo "Tour By Bike".[13] Membership forms are available at ValloCycle's public website,

Greek life

Interfraternity Council

Panhellenic Council

National Pan-Hellenic Council

Professional Fraternity

Disc golf course

In 2007, The University of Montevallo in cooperation with the Professional Disc Golf Association built a full size, 18 hole, disc golf course on the grounds of the campus.[15] At the time of its construction it was one of the few courses located on the campus of a public university in the region. Despite the fact that it is on university grounds and maintained by school staff it is open to the public and has provided a source of cooperation and connection between the community and the school. In recent years several University of Montevallo Greek organizations have sponsored various holes in order to help with maintenance and upkeep.


The University of Montevallo fields 19 NCAA Division II athletic teams[16] that currently compete in the Gulf South Conference.

Men's athletics include: baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, lacrosse, tennis and track, cross-country.

Women's athletics include: basketball, soccer, golf, cross-country, tennis, volleyball and track and field.

The Falcons were members of the Gulf South Conference from 1995 until 2009. They then competed in the Peach Belt Conference until re-joining the GSC before the 2017–18 academic year.[17]

Notable faculty and staff

Notable alumni


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. Encyclopedia of Alabama: University of Montevallo, accessed 2010-05-16.
  4. McDow, Hannah Jo (1 April 2009). "University of Montevallo in Alabama College Night". Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  5. "University of Montevallo's Life Raft Debate Home Page". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  6. episode 402, Save the Day
  7. Hurst, Katie (26 May 2011). "Voting for the stars". Shelby County Reporter. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  8. "Montevallo introduces a new bike share program". 19 October 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  9. "Green Group Tornado Cleanup A Bright Spot For Alabama". Associated Press. 29 December 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  10. Spencer, Tom (2 January 2012). "Birmingham Bike Share Program Pedals Into Downtown Life". Birmingham News. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  11. Chambers, Jesse (16 December 2011). "Sharing the lanes: New biking infrastructure in Montevallo". WELD For Birmingham. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  12. Agliata, Kate (1 February 2012). "Vallocycle Creates Town Map, Showcases Local Businesses & Sustainability". My Green Birmingham. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  13. Sides, Melinda (13 October 2011). "UM celebrates sustainability at 115th Founder's Day". Fox 6 WBRC. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-02-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. Staff, PDGA (2 September 2009). "University of Montevallo". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  16. "University of Montevallo Athletics". University of Montevallo Athletics Homepage. Archived from the original on 2011-09-17. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
  17. "GSC to add Auburn Montgomery and Montevallo". Gulf South Conference.
  18. "Jonathon Maloney – Player Page". Harrogate Railway Athletic F.C. 2011-09-22.

Further reading

  • Lucille Griffith, White Columns & Red Brick: The University of Montevallo Buildings. Montevallo, AL: University of Montevallo Press, 1988.
  • Clark Hultquist and Carey Heatherly, Montevallo. Arcadia Press, 2011.
  • Alissa Nutting, "Montevallo: A Mound in a Valley" Alabama Heritage 84 (Spring 2007): 18–29.
  • Mary Frances Tipton, Years Rich and Fruitful: University of Montevallo 1896–1996. Montevallo, AL: University of Montevallo, 1996.
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