The Kentucky General Assembly established Centre College on January 21, 1819. The college was named for its proximate location in the geographic "centre" of the Commonwealth, using early nineteenth century America's contemporaneous spelling of the word. Auspiciously, the legislature placed many of Kentucky's most prominent citizens in charge of Centre College's Board of Trustees, with Isaac Shelby, the Commonwealth's first governor, serving as chair. Classes began in the fall of 1820 in Old Centre, the first building on campus and the oldest college administration building west of the Allegheny Mountains.
In its early years, Centre navigated financial hardships, disputes within and outside the Presbyterian Church, and six wars, including the occupation of Old Centre by both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War. A Centre alumnus, John Todd Stuart, played a formative role in American history by encouraging Abraham Lincoln to study for the bar, providing his first set of law books, and serving as Lincoln's professional and political mentor. From 1830 to 1857, President John C. Young oversaw a vast enlargement of the faculty and a five-fold increase in the student body. Following the Civil War, Centre affiliated itself with several other educational institutions. From 1894 until 1912, J. Proctor Knott, a former Kentucky Governor and U.S. Congressman, operated a law school at Centre as its dean. The Centre College Board of Trustees controlled the Kentucky School for the Deaf, also in Danville, during its early years; consolidated the college with the Central University in Richmond, Kentucky in 1901; and merged with Danville's Kentucky College for Women in 1926, although the women did not move onto Centre's campus until 1962.
In 1921, Centre upset Harvard University's undefeated football team 6–0, a feat which led The New York Times to later call it "Football's Upset of the Century". ESPN described Centre's victory as one of the biggest upsets in all sports during the twentieth century. "C6H0" remains a point of pride among students and alumni and is the answer to "What is the formula for a winning football team?" To this day, "C6HO" is inscribed in large white figures on the brick exterior of Centre's old post office.
During the 1960s the college's financial resources doubled. Eleven new buildings were added to the campus and enrollment increased from 450 to 800. In 1988, Centre set a national record when it achieved a 75.4% participation rate for alumni giving, a mark that remains unbroken to this day. From the latter twentieth century to the present, strong levels of alumni giving and participation—often the highest in the nation—fueled the college's growth. Today, enrollment is around 1,300 with nearly 150 faculty members. Dr. John A. Roush, who took office in 1998, is the college's 20th president. In 2000, Centre became the smallest college ever to host a national election debate. Dick Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman debated on October 5 at Centre's Norton Center for the Arts with CNN's Bernard Shaw acting as moderator. In 2012, Centre again hosted a vice presidential debate in the Norton Center for the Arts, which featured Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.
The physical campus has changed substantially during the past decade. In 2005, the college completed The College Centre, a $22-million project to expand and renovate Suttcliffe Hall, the Crounse Academic Center and Grace Doherty Library, which was the largest construction project on campus since the Norton Center was built in 1973. Additionally, a new student residence, Pearl Hall, was completed in 2008; a new campus center opened in October 2009; and the construction of a new science wing in Young Hall was completed in the fall of 2010. In August 2011, Centre announced the construction of Brockman Residential Commons, a 125-bed facility offering apartment and townhouse living for upperclassmen. The residence facility was completed at the beginning of the 2012–13 school year.
Classes at Centre are held in spite of several federal holidays—including Martin Luther King, Jr., Presidents, Labor, Columbus, and Veterans Days—and rarely cancelled, which are points of pride among students, staff, and alumni. During the Confederate occupation of Old Centre in 1862, classes were held at Old Sayre library. However, the Battle of Perryville eventually forced the faculty to suspend classes for 13 days, the college's only cancellation during the Civil War. Classes were cancelled one day due to the Great Blizzard of 1978. In 1994 and 1998, when severe snow and ice storms shut down much of the Commonwealth, classes were delayed by half a day. In 2000, classes were officially cancelled prior to the Vice Presidential Debate and in the spring due to a hazardous chemical spill on the train tracks found at the end of Greek Row; the entire campus was evacuated. On March 7, 2006, classes were cut short to allow students and staff to attend a symposium honoring retiring Dean John Ward. Ironically, following a large snow storm in 1997, Dean John Ward told the college community, "Centre didn't cancel classes during parts of the Civil War; we're not cancelling them now." Yet classes were cancelled at Centre on March 3, 2014, due to weather conditions.
On Thursday, October 5, 2000, Centre College hosted the Vice Presidential Debate, becoming the smallest college in the smallest town ever to serve as a host site for a general election debate. Dubbed "The Thrill in the Ville," the debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman took place in the College's Norton Center for the Arts. The event was a tremendous success, being heralded by former CBS news anchor Dan Rather as "the best vice presidential debate ever held." After the 2000 debate concluded, Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that "Centre has set the standard by which future debates will be judged."
Twelve years after hosting its first debate, Centre College again hosted a Vice Presidential Debate on October 11, 2012. The debate between Vice Presidential incumbent Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, with moderator Martha Raddatz, was called "one of the most engaging, enlightening, and entertaining debates of recent memory, one marked by dramatic contrasts in priorities, ideology, and personal style." Of Centre College's performance as a host site, Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said, "They aced it in 2000 and this year was even better."
Centre's 152-acre (62 ha) campus includes 67 buildings, 14 of which are included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Completed in 1820, Old Centre is the college's first building, the oldest continuously operated academic building west of the Alleghenies, and the template for the Greek Revival style of the campus. Today it houses the offices of the president, vice president for academic affairs, and vice president for college relations, in addition to several classrooms and the College's Admissions Welcome Centre. At various times it has served as a library, dormitory, law school, faculty residence, and, during the Civil War, a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers. Old Centre is a Kentucky Landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and included in the Smithsonian Guide to Historic Places.
Built in 1913 with a $30,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, Old Carnegie was the college library until 1966. It currently houses the Career Services Office and the Center for Global Citizenship, as well as a special-occasion dining room. Old Carnegie is listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Norton Center for the Arts has hosted performers such as violinist Itzhak Perlman, dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp, the Boston Pops, the New York Philharmonic, Henry Mancini, jazz vocalists Pearl Bailey and Sarah Vaughan, the Orchestre de Paris with Daniel Barenboim, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Beach Boys, Huey Lewis and the News, Willie Nelson, Travis Tritt, LeAnn Rimes, Lyle Lovett, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, crooner Tony Bennett, The Chieftains, Three Dog Night, David Copperfield, Dolly Parton, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ben Folds, They Might Be Giants, and musicals such as Rent, Titanic, Annie Get Your Gun, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hairspray, My Fair Lady and Ain't Misbehavin' featuring Ruben Studdard. In October 2000, the Norton Center hosted the Vice Presidential Debate between Dick Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman. In September 2009, Centre garnered national attention by hosting the Vienna Philharmonic, marking the only stop on the Philharmonic's American tour other than New York's Carnegie Hall. In October 2012, the Norton Center hosted the Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Centre students can attend most of the Norton Center events at no extra cost.
The Norton Center for the Arts was built in 1973 and originally named the Regional Arts Center (RAC). The 85,000 square feet (7,900 m2) complex was designed by architect William Wesley Peters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. It was later renamed for Jane Morton Norton, a former trustee of Centre College. The complex was refurbished in 2009.
The College Centre is composed of two buildings, Crounse Hall and Sutcliffe Hall, both of which received multimillion-dollar expansions and renovations completed in the spring of 2005. Crounse Hall houses an enlarged library, theater, and additional classrooms; Sutcliffe Hall houses over 62,000 square feet (5,800 m2) of athletic space, including several new gymnasiums and workout facilities.
The Old Bookstore was the first chapter house of any fraternity in Kentucky, housing the brothers of the Epsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi. Before Centre obtained the property, the structure functioned as a funeral home and as a shoe store. The college later converted it to the Campus Bookstore. In 2005 the bookstore moved to its current downtown Danville location, leaving the building empty. In 2008, Centre rededicated the building as Stuart Hall, an upperclassmen residential facility, naming it in honor of John T. Stuart, of the class of 1826.
Built in 1853 and renovated in 1958, Craik House is the president's home. Originally a private residence, Henry Craik bought the home in 1937 with a bequest in honor of his Centre Class of 1890. Robert L. McLeod, the 14th president of Centre, was the first president of the college to occupy the residence. The Craik House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Breckenridge Hall is a three-story residence hall that was originally built in 1892 as a dormitory for students of the Danville Theological Seminary. When the seminary consolidated with the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in 1901, Centre took over Breckinridge as a residence hall for students.
Pearl Hall is the first LEED GOLD residential hall in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Pearl Hall was built with a gift from Centre trustee Robert Brockman, '63. The residence hall is named in memory of Brockman's mother and grandmother, both of whom were named Pearl. Construction of the three-floor facility located on Main Street began in May 2007 after commencement and was finished in time for students to move into in August 2008. Dedication of the building took place during homecoming in October 2008. It houses 146 students.
The Campus Centre, a LEED Silver Certified multi-purpose facility, houses the Cowan Dining Commons, the Everyday Cafe, the Student Life Office, several meeting rooms, and a gaming area. The two-story, 50,000 square foot (4,650 m²), $15 million facility replaced the original Cowan Dining Commons in Fall 2009.
In its 2015 edition, U.S. News & World Report ranked Centre No. 45 among liberal arts colleges. For best educational value, U.S. News & World Report ranked Centre No. 31 among all liberal arts colleges in 2015. In 2015, US News ranked Centre No. 10 for best undergraduate teaching.
In 2014, Forbes magazine ranked Centre 81st in the nation among all colleges and universities and 11th among all colleges and universities in the South.
Consistent with its strong tradition of alumni giving, Centre was named in 2011 by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 7 most loved school based on a two-year average of annual alumni giving. For the class of 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked Centre No. 4 among all colleges and universities for the percentage of students who studied abroad at least once prior to graduation. In 2014, the Institute for International Education ranked Centre No. 1 for study abroad participation among baccalaureate institutions. In his book Colleges That Change Lives, Loren Pope says, "No university faculty compares with Centre's in the impact it has on the growth of young minds and personalities. Its faculty is earnestly committed to and excels at the art of teaching."
Centre offers a liberal arts education, requiring the completion of a general education curriculum and a major area of study. The college hosts active chapters of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa, and has produced over 70% of Kentucky's Rhodes Scholars in the last 50 years. Centre produces Fulbright, Goldwater, Rotary, and other major fellowship winners on a consistent basis, especially relative to the small size of its student body. From 2001 to 2011 the college produced 24 Fulbright winners, 6 Goldwater Scholars, 11 Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholars, 3 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows, an Udall Scholar, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Mitchell Scholar. Centre's consistent four-year graduation rate of more than 80 percent is in the top 50 nationally and the highest of any Kentucky college or university.
Admission to Centre is competitive. For the class of 2018, incoming first-years had a midrange ACT score of 26-31, with an average ACT score of 29. Fifty-four percent of incoming students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.
Classes operate on a 4-1-4 schedule. Students take four courses each during the fall and spring semesters and one course during CentreTerm, which is a three-week period of intensive study during January. CentreTerm offers students an opportunity to study abroad, pursue an internship, or take unique, atypical courses. For instance, "The Art of Walking," a course involving the exploration of Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment" while hiking through the Central Kentucky landscape, has garnered national attention as a signature class at Centre.
In addition to 27 majors and 28 minors, Centre offers double majors, which about 25% of graduates complete, self-designed majors, and dual-degree engineering programs with Columbia University, University of Kentucky, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University (St. Louis). Centre is one of only a few colleges to offer a glassblowing program through its art department.
The Centre Commitment guarantees students who meet the college's academic and social expectations an internship or collaborative research experience, study abroad experience, and graduation in four years. If a student is unable to secure the components of the Centre Commitment within four consecutive years of enrollment, the college will provide up to an additional year of study tuition-free.
Approximately 85 percent of all students study abroad at least once before graduating, making international study a hallmark of a Centre education. For the class of 2013, Centre ranked No. 1 in the nation among all colleges and universities for participation in study abroad. As part of its effort to promote global citizenship, in 2010 Centre began providing passports free of charge for all entering students who do not already possess one.
The college maintains permanent residential programs operated by Centre faculty in England (London), France (Strasbourg, across the Rhine River from Germany), and Mexico (Mérida, located on the Yucatán Peninsula). Additionally, the college maintains well-utilized exchange programs in China (with Tongji University), Japan (with Yamaguchi Prefectural University), Scotland (University of Glasgow), Spain (Universidad de Lleida), and Northern Ireland (with Queen's University Belfast). Students also study abroad during the fall term at the University of Reading in England.
Supplementing the semester and yearlong programs, Centre offers a wide variety of study abroad options during the three-week Centre Term held in January. These options have included Bali, Barbados, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Greece, India, Israel, Peru, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
About 96 percent of Centre's students live on campus and participate in athletics, academic organizations, student government, and volunteer work. There are about 100 clubs, societies, teams and other formal and informal groups and more than 2,000 campus events each year. In 2016 the ethnic diversity of the student body was 3.3% Asian or Asian American, 4.6% Black or African American, 2.3% Hispanic or Latino, 3% Two or more races, and 80% White.
Centre has an active Greek life, with the following chapters:Beta Theta Pi (fraternity; chapter founded 1848)
Delta Kappa Epsilon (fraternity; chapter founded 1854)
Phi Delta Theta (fraternity; chapter founded 1850)
Phi Kappa Tau (fraternity; chapter founded 1914; inactive 1933–1948)
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (fraternity; chapter founded 1882)
Sigma Chi (fraternity; chapter founded 1876)
Alpha Delta Pi (sorority; chapter founded 2000)
Delta Delta Delta (sorority; chapter founded 1980)
Kappa Alpha Theta (sorority; chapter founded 1980)
Kappa Kappa Gamma (sorority; chapter founded 1980)
A chapter of the Kappa Delta sorority will begin in the fall of 2016.
Centre has a variety of academic and leadership honorary societies including:Beta Beta Beta - biology
Gamma Sigma Alpha - Greek scholarship
Omicron Delta Epsilon - economics
Omicron Delta Kappa - leadership
Order of Omega - Greek leadership
Phi Alpha Theta - history
Phi Beta Kappa - overall scholarship
Phi Sigma Iota - languages
Pi Mu Epsilon - mathematics
Pi Sigma Alpha - government
Psi Chi - psychology
Rho Lambda - Panhellenic leadership and scholarship
Sigma Delta Pi - Spanish
Sigma Pi Sigma - physics
The Student Government Association of Centre College (SGA) represents Centre students as their voice on academic, extracurricular, and social issues. SGA consists of an Executive Council of officers and committee chairs, a Student Senate that handles academic issues, and a House of Representatives that oversees all clubs and organizations on campus. Each class elects representatives, who serve on committees that deal with specific aspects of campus and who approve all club funding, establishment of new student organizations, and other pieces of legislation that impact campus life. Centre also has a Student Judiciary that hears cases that are referred to it by the Dean's Office or brought voluntarily by students themselves. Students who have been accused of a violation of academic or social policy have a right to have their case heard by a jury of their peers.
In 1969, Centre celebrated the College's Sesquecentennial Year by dedicating and installing, at the center of campus, the Flame—a large sculpture which symbolically represents the torch of knowledge that appears on Centre's official seal. A plaque at the base of the statue quotes Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: "Where the light is brightest, the shadows are deepest." The statue quickly became an ode to the liberation of the body as well as the mind. By the early 1970s, students began spontaneously running naked to and from dorms and Greek houses while passing the Flame. "Running the Flame" is now enshrined as a tradition that most Centre students complete at least once prior to graduation.
College tradition holds that two students will marry at some point following graduation if, at the stroke of midnight, they kiss over the brass college seal embedded in the walkway in front of Old Centre.
A portrait of Fred M. Vinson ('09,'11 Law), former Chief Justice of the United States, hangs in the hallway of the chapter house of the Kentucky Alpha-Delta chapter of Phi Delta Theta. Vinson was a member of the chapter and a three-sport athlete in baseball, basketball, and football while studying at Centre. Members of the chapter take the portrait, affectionately known as Dead Fred, to the sidelines of Centre football and basketball games and to other significant college events. The portrait has not missed a football home game since Vinson's death in 1953. When Centre hosted the 2000 and 2012 vice presidential debates, Dead Fred was granted a special seat overlooking the proceedings on both occasions.
Centre competes in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) and fields 21 teams, known as the Colonels. The college is a former member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1910–1941) and Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (1962–2012). Spanning six states, the SAA also includes Berry College, Birmingham-Southern College, Hendrix College, Millsaps College, Oglethorpe University, Rhodes College and Sewanee: The University of the South.
Centre fields intercollegiate men's teams in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field. Intercollegiate women's teams include basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. 40 percent of the student body participates in intercollegiate athletics. Centre offers fifteen intramural sports, in which 80 percent of the student body participates.
Competing since 1880, the Centre Colonels football team, also historically known as the "Praying Colonels", ranked as the 12th winningest program in NCAA Division III history with a 509–374–37 all-time record as of 2008. On January 1, 1921, the Colonels defeated Texas Christian University 63-7 in the Fort Worth Classic, a postseason college football bowl game in Fort Worth, Texas played only once. On January 2, 1922, Centre College made the postseason trip to Texas again, this time taking on Texas A&M in the Dixie Classic, the forerunner of the Cotton Bowl. Even though the Colonels were outscored 22-14, they played their part in the birth of one of college football's greatest traditions, the 12th Man.
At the beginning of the Roaring '20s, Harvard University, the nation's dominant football power, was riding a two-year undefeated streak whose last loss was to Brown in 1918. Then the Crimson invited Centre (enrollment at that time: 264) to Cambridge for what they thought would be a "warm-up" game, a light workout before facing Princeton the following week.
In the 1921 Centre vs. Harvard football game, the Colonels (under coach Charley Moran) shocked Harvard University and became the first school from outside the East to ever beat one of the Ivy League's "Big Three" of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Star player Bo McMillin rushed for the lone touchdown of the game early in the third quarter, and the Praying Colonels' defense held off the Crimson's powerful offense from there for a 6-0 victory. 29 years later, in 1950, the Associated Press chose the Centre win as the greatest sports upset of the first half of the 20th century.
On four consecutive Saturdays in 1924, the Colonels defeated Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.
Centre alumni include two U.S. Vice Presidents, one Chief Justice of the United States, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 13 U.S. Senators, 43 U.S. Representatives, 10 moderators of the General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church, and 11 governors. Referring to Centre, President Woodrow Wilson gave an annual speech to Princeton alumni in which he stated: "There is a little college down in Kentucky which in sixty years has graduated more men who have acquired prominence and fame than has Princeton in her 150 years."