UA Journey

How old is the University of Alaska?

This article was adapted from Terrence Cole's "The Cornerstone on College Hill," which was published by the University of Alaska Press in 1994.

When UA President Bunnell created the institution's first seal (Figure 1), he picked 1922 as the year on the seal, since that was the year when the first students enrolled. Thirteen years later, in 1935, the institution became the University of Alaska and the seal was changed to reflect the new name and date (Figure 2).

Bunnell was upset that the first 13 years of the college were excluded and modified the seal to include both 1922 and 1935. When the seal came back from the engravers, it said "1922-1935" (Figure 3) instead of "1922 * 1935" as requested by Bunnell. The inclusive dates made it seem that the university was born in 1922 and died in 1935— and that its motto should have been "In Memoriam" instead of "Ad Summum." Ad Summum means "To the Highest Point," the school's motto.

In 1949, President Terris Moore adopted 1917, the year the Alaska Agricultural College was incorporated, as the official date of the university's inception (Figure 4). Many alumni and faculty were angered at the change, including President Emeritus Bunnell. In fact, the issue was so controversial that some university publications preferred leaving the year off the seal completely (Figure 5). After Moore left office in 1953, his successor, Ernest Patty, changed the date back to 1922 (Figure 6). And thus it remained until 1965.

In 1965, William R. Wood, the university's fourth president, changed the date once again to 1917 (Figure 7). Some claimed he did so not because it seemed the most appropriate date, but also because the university's 50th anniversary in 1967 would coincide with the centennial celebration of Alaska's purchase from Russia. Today the official date on the seal remains 1917.

The history of the changing dates on the university seal inspired William Cashen to predict in 1967 that someday in the "year 2000 or thereabouts a new University president is going to pause in front of our Cornerstone." Cashen warned that when the future president's "eyes light up at the startling discovery that the date thereon is July 4, 1915," the official age of the university will probably change again.